My Love-Hate Relationship With My Fitness Tracker
The Start of My Journey
I was first dazzled by the possibilities presented by fitness trackers by a feature on the Dr. Oz Show. It is amazing what a little device resembling a wristwatch can do. The stories were compelling. People monitoring their heart rates were alerted to anomalies and went to emergency departments in time for effective treatment of heart attacks or strokes. Devices showed the exact time when the murder victims hearts stopped beating, giving an accurate time of death during murder investigations.
The possibilities seemed endless. The device could not only track a heart rate; it also detects when I am active or asleep. Other tools were available to record exercise, monthly cycles, water intake, and food. It even calculates calories burned and consumed. I was resolved. “I’m gonna get me one of these.” I am not alone.
As a let's say a mature woman and breast cancer survivor, my body faced several challenges. After finishing chemo, radiation, drug therapy, and several operations, my body was incredibly tired. My sleep patterns were out of wack with late nights looking at the ceiling and craving naps during the day. The soles of my feet and my fingers tingle because of chemo-induced nerve damage. Muscle inflammation also plagues me, especially when I did not exercise regularly.
I purchased a Fitbit Charge 3 during the Black Friday weekend in 2018. My little tracker gave me hope that I could take control of my life and develop healthy habits. The device’s results also linked to my Google Android phone, making it easy to manage my information.
I am not alone. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, wearable technology was predicted to be the most popular trend in fitness in 2019. The Journal of the American Geriatric Society links light-intensity physical activity done 2.5 hours a week with lower mortality in women 53 to 99. I am on board with living as long as I can.
My Battles With my Fitness Tracker
The Battle of the ZZZZs
The main reason I bought the tracker was to monitor my sleep. It was dazzling to see my rest divided into squiggly vertical lines showing restlessness, light and deep sleep, and REM. I was shocked to discover my exhaustion was not caused by sleeping too much; I was actually sleeping too little. At first, I marveled that my device automatically detected my sleep, but soon found a few problems. Sleep periods sometimes went undetected. I started to manually tell it when I began to sleep and was awake or added a sleep log. If the statistics on the device did not match my input, it flashes an error message and gives the actual zzzs time.
When I first saw my hours of slumber, I was incredulous. I only slept for four hours? Then I realized that when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the device said, “Whaahoo, she is up” and stopped tracking. Fortunately, I could edit the sleep log to change the time and the tracker would add the sleep stats.
10,000 steps – are you kidding me?
Fitbit and other trackers hold 10,000 steps and 250 steps per active hour as the standard for healthy living. This number is a lot of steps for me. I felt guilty when I could not meet it (which was often). I was relieved when a Washington Post article came out challenging the 10,000 steps concept. Research data points to 7,500 steps as being enough to meet my exercise goals and lowering my mortality rate.
I chose not to use the app to brag about meeting my required number of steps on social media. I am glad that my followers do not do it either. I want to concentrate on my own journey and not be distracted. I am content to feel a surge of satisfaction when my device and phone sparkles congratulations on a job well done.
Fat burn inaccuracies
Another great feature of my tracker is to calculate how many calories I burned in a day. Unfortunately, these devices often underestimate the calorie count.
The difference between the calories burned stat on a treadmill and the calculation on my device can vary by 40 calories or more. Stanford Medicine confirms that while these devices can measure heart rate within five percent, they do not calculate energy expenditure well.
The Exercise Section
The default goal for exercise is five days a week. That proved too much for me, so I adjusted my goal to three days a week. I was thrilled when walks lasting more than 15 minutes were automatically logged as exercise on my tracker. I love how my device reminds me at ten minutes to the hour that I need x number of steps to achieve the 250 goals. Sometimes, I got up and danced or moved around to hit the target. The only problem was that I had to make sure the blinds were closed so that my neighbors did not get a free show.
The way my device celebrates the achievement of meeting hourly and daily goals is wonderful. My tracker will vibrate and flash. I also like the way that my phone app reacts to my successes. The relevant section will flash a neon green line and sparkly razzle-dazzle that acted like a visual pat on the back.
Experts have raised privacy concerns in artificial intelligence (AI). According to a study by the University of California Berkely, it is possible to identify people by learning their daily patterns in step data and correlating the stats to demographic data. Information captured by devices could potentially be misused and sold on the open market.
The biggest downside is how I respond to the data. It was hard not to beat myself up when I do not log enough steps, exercise, or get enough sleep. I have had to learn how to feel OK about not meeting goals. After all, I am trying.
I had to stop viewing my fitness tracker as a slave driver cracking a whip. Instead, I looked at it as a tool that is not infallible. A tool that is constantly being improved and refined. The more I use it and understand how it functions, the more I love it. My tracker gives me a great gift – a guide to better health.
Wearable Tech is New Top Fitness Trend for 2019, according to ACSM Survey
American College of Sports Medicine
Measured With Fitness Trackers, Light Intensity Physical Activity Linked To Lower Mortality In Women 63 To 99, healthinaging.org
Advancement of artificial intelligence opens health data privacy to attack, University of California Berkley
Activity trackers not as accurate for some activities, ISU study finds Iowa State University, Iowa State University
Fitness trackers are good for your health, but that 10,000-step goal is overblown, Washington Post, Bruce Horovitz