Wearable Fitness Trackers - Good or Bad or Both?
Wearable fitness trackers have become a billion-dollar industry.
It would be hard for me to say this is a bad thing.
Fitness trackers like the Apple Watch, the Fitbit, the Whoop, the Oura ring, and more are giving people incredible insight into their bodies helping them live healthier lives.
But, not everything about these wearables is good.
So, today, I plan on going over the benefits and the potential downsides associated with these products.
I won’t be endorsing any, FYI, so if after you read this you decide you want to get one I’d encourage you to think about what you’d use it for before making a decision.
What are the Pros of Wearables?
Perhaps before I get into the pros of wearable fitness trackers I should define what these are.
Whether it’s an Oura ring (an actual ring that goes over your index finger), or an Apple Watch these monitor various aspects of your physical activity and provide you with valuable data that can help you make informed decisions about your lifestyle.
Now, there are some pretty simple fitness trackers out there.
With these, the most basic function is to monitor your daily activity, including steps taken, calories burned, and distance traveled.
With this kind of data, you’ll get a fairly good understanding of how much physical activity you're getting each day. As I’ve talked about over and over, physical activity is some of the best medicine, ever.
More advanced fitness trackers will give you biometrics (body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics) like heart rate, skin temperature, breath rate, and more. By measuring these data points a fitness tracker can tell you how recovered you are if you’re susceptible to getting sick, how much stress you’re under, and more.
Getting data on your heart rate, for example, can give you a clue about heart health which could lead to having comprehensive tests done.
Another important feature of many fitness trackers is their ability to track your sleep patterns.
Sleep is arguably one of the most impactful habits for improving health. By monitoring the quality and duration of your sleep, these devices can help you identify ways to improve your sleep habits and get better rest. For example, if you notice that you're not getting enough deep sleep, you may need to make some changes to your sleep environment or bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality.
Fitness trackers can also be useful for monitoring your workouts. Depending on the model, you may be able to track a variety of activities, including running, cycling, swimming, and weightlifting. By tracking your workouts, you can identify areas where you may need to increase your intensity or change your routine to achieve your fitness goals. You can also track your progress over time to see how you're improving.
And easily one of the most valuable benefits of a fitness tracker is the personalized data it provides. Monitoring your physical activity and providing detailed information about your health and fitness can help you make more informed decisions about your lifestyle.
With this information, you can set and track goals, make adjustments to your workout routine, and even make healthier lifestyle choices. For example, some of these wearables allow you to fill out a custom journal daily that will give you insights on how doing things like taking magnesium, engaging in sexual activity, and even getting a vaccine, affect your health.
There’s a very strong argument for using these.
Especially if you want to dive deeper into how certain inputs dictate how you feel.
But, there are some downsides to wearables, too.
The Cons of Wearables
As I go over this list of downsides to wearables it’s hard for me to come away with a nagging concern over my patients using them.
I believe all of these points should be taken into consideration, but none of these strike me as gravely concerning.
Inaccuracy: One of the most significant downsides of fitness trackers is that they are often not accurate in tracking physical activity.
The devices can produce inaccurate readings of steps taken and calories burned, leading to incorrect data. This can be frustrating if you are trying to reach certain fitness goals, as you may be misled by the data provided by your tracker.
Plus they’re susceptible to being damaged, and the placement of the device can also affect the data.
Dependency: I can see this one being a blessing and a curse.
In the same way that counting macros can make it so you obsess about what you eat, wearing a fitness tracker can create a dependency on the device to track fitness goals.
This can lead to a lack of motivation and discouragement when goals are not met, or when the device fails to function properly. Some people even find when they become too reliant on their fitness tracker they are less likely to exercise without it, which can be problematic if you forget to wear it or if it runs out of battery.
Privacy Concerns: The fact that our data is so valuable is a bit disconcerting, I know.
And the fact that fitness trackers collect personal data, such as location and heart rate, which can be accessed by third-party companies also raises concerns.
Now, they’re not supposed to give your data away but as we’ve learned, anything can be hacked. This is why if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of your personal data being collected and potentially shared with others, you may want to avoid using a fitness tracker altogether.
- Price: Wearables aren’t cheap, and some of them come with subscriptions built in if you want to process your data. When you’re spending upwards of $200-$300 a month for a fitness tracker and then have to spend a monthly fee to use it, I’d say that’s not a big win.
On the whole, though, for anyone serious about improving their health these fitness trackers could help you.
I don’t think they add anything to what we know to be essential for physical health but can help you manage your energy levels and also troubleshoot how to live a healthy life.