Western civilisation is the grip of a dangerous obesity epidemic, primarily caused by a culture of over eating and under exercising. The implications of this have long been known in the medical and scientific community, but now thankfully the general public is becoming better and better informed about the importance of this issue. Healthier diets and regular activity have been shown to prevent ad even reverse the majority of issues associated with being overweight. Simple changes to increase daily activity expenditure can be an easy but nevertheless important place to start. Walking to work or recreationally, light jogs, and even sitting down less can begin to elicit positives changes to a person’s health. However, these small changes will only get one so far, and as your body adapts to this they become less effective, forcing you to continuingly adapt the level and intensity of your exercise.
This is where fitness trackers have become popular for their ability to track a number of factors relating to your progress. Depending on the model, fitness trackers can track steps, calorie intake and expenditure, distance travelled, heart rate and even sleep patterns. These trackers are relatively new to the market but have landed with immediate success with millions being sold in 2014. However, the better models aren’t cheap and come with a hefty price tag of around £100. For some people, will power and discipline are all they need to succeed with their goals. Others need that extra hand from expensive nutritionists, personal trainers and gym memberships. Fitness trackers are marketed as a cheaper alternative to these with their ability to perform a lot of their roles. The question is; are they a worthwhile purchase?
A fitness tracker is designed to record all your movement and calorie expenditure over a set period of time, even 24/7 if you so desire. All your exercise, be it resistance or cardiovascular, is recorded by specially designed accelerometers. The aim is to show exactly how many calories you have burnt, so that you can accurately track your calories in versus your calories out. They will also allow you track your exercise times, duration and intensity and download them to a selected device so that you accurately monitor progress and tweak your workouts to prevent your fat loss from stalling. This is one of the roles of a personal trainer, but is something that would cost considerably more than the one off payment of a fitness tracker. However, fitness trackers lack the wealth of knowledge that a PT could provide, or point out mistakes, where you are going wrong and reduce the risk of injury.
A recent study compared fitness trackers to pedometers and the top smart phone apps and actually found them to be the least accurate of the three types, with some models showing an error rate as high 40% (most accurate had an error rate of 15%). Pedometers were shown to be the most accurate, but they have the disadvantage of only recording the number of steps taken. Smart phones had the next best accuracy ratings, whilst still having some of the same benefits as the trackers.
Keeping motivated is one of the, if not the most important factors in determining the success in any fitness regime. This is one of the main benefits provided by personal trainers, but fitness trackers can also provide this to a similar extent for a much lower cost. The data monitored and tracked by the fitness trackers can show you how you are improving and changing, and by what targets you need to beat. Constantly tracking and logging your performance data gives you clear targets to beat, it will show you how far you ran or how many calories you burnt the day before, showing you exactly what you need to beat. Fitness trackers can send all the information straight to a device of your choosing, so you can have access to all your data anywhere to keep you on track. There is no greater competition than against yourself.
Splashing out over £100 can also be a powerful motivator, if you are going to spend that amount of money on a wristband most people will make sure they get their money worth and keep using it. However, fitness trackers may not be enough on those days when you really aren’t motivated, and we all have those days. This is one advantage having personal trainer would provide. Having a booked and paid PT session will force you to attend even if you don’t want to, and they will push you to work harder than you might do if you are on your own and feeling unmotivated.
Most fitness trackers fit easily and discreetly on to your wrist, making them perfect for any kind of exercise where they are very unlikely to get in the way. The majority of them are made from a durable plastic designed to withstand any knocks or bumps that may occur during any form of exercise. Also, there are a number of models available that are water or splash proof so you can use them outdoors without fear of the glorious British weather. Because of these points it means that you don’t even need to have your phone or other devices on you. You could quite easily go out for you morning or evening jog and leave you phone at home. This means that you don’t have to have the extra weight in your pocket or in bag, nor do you have to worry about your phone getting wet if it rains half way through your run. The fitness tracker can easily store your data until you get home to transfer it over to your preferred device.
It is difficult to give a black and white verdict on whether or not they are worth the prices tags, as it is going to be totally down to your individual circumstances. They may not be as effective as having a PT or gym membership, the quality of the knowledge and equipment is a huge advantage that a fitness tracker cannot provide. However, in the long run it is significantly cheaper and can still be an effective way to start you on your fitness journey. Fitness trackers have the tools to help you to achieve your fitness goals, whether they are effective enough to keep you motivated is up to you.
BSc Sports Biomedicine and Nutrition