Health and fitness wearables – devices and apps that monitor health signs – are everywhere. In fact, most smartphones now come with a fitness tracker pre-installed. Some are simple step-counters, others monitor complex vital signs, but all provide data feedback in real time, and many also offer reminder or alert systems to keep you on track.
Wearable devices come in ever-newer forms – they may strap to your wrist, clip to your shoes or belt, strap across your chest or back, or come built into a phone or another piece of equipment. Among the latest gear: running shoes with built-in analytics, sunglasses that double as coaching apps, and headphones that monitor your vitals through your ears. There are also wearables designed to help those with specific conditions; for example, people with diabetes can use glucose-monitoring wearables to track their blood sugar.
But while wearable health technology can be extremely useful as you pursue your fitness goals, it can also backfire by distracting or overwhelming you with information. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you make fitness wearables work for you.
1. Don’t Let Your Wearable Drive You
It’s 8 p.m. and your Fitbit says you’re nowhere near your goal of 10,000 steps, so you drag yourself out for a night-time walk to hit that goal. Sound familiar? It’s all too easy to become a bit obsessive about setting and meeting goals no matter what, leading to stress and over-exertion. And it’s also common to get discouraged when you fail to meet goals, leading many people to abandon the whole project.
Instead, set realistic goals based on your current activity level, and increase your numbers over time when you regularly meet them. Think of fitness goals as ideals, not requirements, and focus on the steps you make, not on the ones you miss. When it comes to health, all progress is good progress.
2. Do Listen to Your Body
Whether you’ve maxed out your day’s steps, hit the sweet spot on your glucose levels, or always have a healthy heart rate, it’s important to know that wearables can’t know everything there is to know about the whole you. If the smartwatch screen says you’re doing great, but your knee hurts or you can’t catch your breath, listen to your body and back off. Think of it this way: If you get injured, you’ll lose all the progress you’ve made up to now. So stay focused on the big picture, not one day’s results.
3. Don’t Believe Everything Your Wearable Says
It might surprise you to know that even well respected brands of wearable aren’t necessarily that accurate. In one study comparing seven popular wrist-worn fitness trackers, even the best missed the mark by over 20 percent when it came to measuring heart rate, energy expenditure and calories burned. For this reason, follow your instincts as well as your tracker. If it feels to you like you walked farther or faster than yesterday, you may well be right, and your tracker isn’t keeping up.
4. Do Keep Consulting Your Doctor
Even though many wearables are helpful, they don’t offer the detailed, personalized information and attention you receive from physicals, screenings, and lab tests. So don’t consider your wearable data a substitute for medical care, but a complement to it.