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Fitness trackers: love ‘em or leave ‘em?

Fit Fix –

By Clarissa Andersen

Fit Fix with Everyday Clair aims to provide you with a source for the latest health, nutrition and fitness advice, tips and recipes. This week Fit Fix talks fitness trackers!

From steps to calories, sleep to heart rates, you can know it all with the help of a fitness tracker. But, as a huge health and wellness trend, are these devices all they’re cracked up to be?

Dr. Allan Wrigley, who holds a PhD in biomechanics, and is the Integrated Support Team Director for Swimming Canada, believes trackers can provide positive and negative effects, depending on what the user is hoping to achieve.

“If you are someone that does not easily get up off the couch, take an active break at work, or choose to not take the elevator a couple floors then I think these fitness trackers can be great,” says Wrigley.

“It’s a bit of an external motivation where you can begin to challenge yourself to be more active in your daily living. For me, as I wear one daily, it’s about looking at the trends over a week.”

While technology can be a large barrier for many people, Wrigley believes the ease of wearing a fitness tracker is one of the biggest positives.

“You don’t have to do anything. Many models are simply always on, and can be set-up to automatically synch through your phone, tablet, or computer. The fact you don’t have to do anything is truly amazing,” he says.

Although a fitness tracker, like the FitBit or Apple Watch, can be used as minimally as one would like, they also compile an amazing amount of data.

“Depending on the individual and lifestyle goals, what exactly it tracks matters more for some but not others. I really look at steps, resting heart rate, and sleep patterns,” Wrigley says.

So what can you record with a fitness tracker? Depending on the model and what use it’s designed for (running, basic fitness, etc…) the user can gather information on the following data points:

  • Steps taken during the day
  • Overall sleep patterns
  • Heart rate (resting and active)
  • Heart rate zones
  • Calories expended
  • Food intake
  • Water consumption
  • Fat burn
  • Running speed and distance
  • GPS tracking

Although there are many perks to using a tracking device, Wrigley also sees the downside to incorporating gadgets into a fitness routine.

“It’s funny how quickly we become tied to technology. I have personally experienced people declining to go for a jog or run, or lament the entire time when we do go that they forgot their fitness watch. It’s just a tool, not a reason,” he says.

“A certain cultural etiquette needs to evolve. Nobody likes to hang around with someone that just stares at their phone all day, and same goes for jogging beside someone just looking at the stats pile up on their watch.”

One important question buyers may have when looking at using a fitness tracker is how accurate they are. According to Wrigley users should be more concerned with reliability over accuracy.

“I think being able to provide you with a number that is consistent over time is more important than the actual magnitude of the number. If I walk the same route twice, I should be able to get comparable results. That’s reliability,” he says.

“As far as a means to measuring overall fitness and endurance levels, I think that fitness trackers provide some solid indicators.”

So, this Christmas, should you buy a fitness tracker for that health nut on your list? Wrigley may say yes, but it should not be used as the only tool to gauge overall health and fitness levels.

“We do have some athletes that wear them, and do encourage their use depending on the need. Everything you measure provides pieces of a puzzle. In order to see the full picture, you need lots of pieces,” he says.

“I don’t think any one device can tell you everything, but it can provide you with the indicators that your fitness and endurance is changing.”