Fitness At Your Fingertips

By Sharon Naylor

December 4, 2015 6 min read

Today's interactive fitness and wellness trackers have added extra efficiency to diets, exercise, stress reduction, sleep and even water consumption for better health. Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Withings and other tech tools have become part of the American lexicon for those seeking to improve their wellness levels, lose weight and enjoy life more.

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, about 69 percent of U.S. adults track at least one health metric, from steps taken in a day to calories consumed. While many use automated trackers like Fitbit, some still attempt to track their daily progress in their heads. However, thinking, "I walked enough today" doesn't deliver the accuracy of a Fitbit reporting that you are 2,000 steps shy of your daily goal. Seeing the numbers on screen can encourage you to jog after lunch or inspire you to take the kids outside for a bike ride, hike or to walk the dog.

The benefits of personal health trackers are well-recorded, with a Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research study revealing that keeping a food diary can dramatically increase weight loss. Dr. Jack Hollis, lead author of the study, says, "Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records." The act of entering food items consumed into a personal health tracker can keep you honest about your dietary habits, and serve as a deterrent against eating that cupcake at work.

As part of a wellness plan, sleep is also an important factor. According to the National Sleep Council, "We spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, and the overall state of our sleep health remains an essential question throughout our lifespan." Yet, quality of sleep throughout the natural cycles of light, deep and REM sleep affects overall health, with deficits contributing to heart disease, diabetes and depression, among other health risks. Online sleep trackers and apps allow you to record your sleep cycles, track your sleeping hours and work towards a plan for healthier sleep. Some apps may even point out a risk of sleep apnea, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Additional personal health trackers give you an opportunity to see your exertion statistics, from steps taken to calories burned, distance traveled and other indicators. You can tailor your stat reports to the sport or activity of your choice. The tracker will then create spreadsheets that let you track your progress overtime, boosting your self-confidence when you look back months later on your improvements in exercise duration and distance. Or, if you've been underperforming, deliver a no-nonsense, just-the-facts motivation to pick up your pace and recommit to your efforts.

You can personalize your health statistics via your choice of tracker, such as choosing between the Fitbit Charge that has a pedometer reporting your steps, distance, number of floors climbed, sleep tracker and a caller ID for incoming calls, and the Fitbit Flex that can be worn day or night, and has no display other than a series of lights. You'll then access your data via a Bluetooth or wireless USB connection and viewing your dashboard online.

If you're motivated by competition, a number of trackers will let you compare stats with friends, which can elevate your performance when you know that other eyes are on your statistics. Wendy Bumgardner, walking expert on About.com, says, "If you have friends who use a Fitbit, you can see how you compare with them for steps, distance, active points and very active time. You can also join groups and compare yourself to the group."

And various trackers will allow you to enter your weight and body mass index for a reliable record of your weight loss or gain.

These statistics are of tremendous use to your own wellness goals, and they also provide a valuable record for your doctor during your checkup or during medical monitoring for a health issue or illness or injury recovery. When your tracker records your steps and heart rate automatically, you don't have to conduct the work of recording yourself, and your tracker becomes a silent partner in your wellness goals.

When it comes to health conditions like diabetes, knowing that you have personal health tracking capabilities can allow you to feel more in control, and for stress, anxiety or depression, mood-tracking apps can help you adjust your activities and help diminish worrisome thoughts.

Some additional types of trackers include ones for productivity, keeping you on track to achieve a goal, and an app to remind you to improve your posture, which may help ward off back, neck and hip pain.

Each of these personal health trackers aid in your wellness goals, and to further help, services like IFTTT combine multiple statistic types from your trackers and online entries to create a comprehensive report of your health and wellness, as well as areas in need of improvement in the future.

Talk with your doctor about the health and wellness details you should be tracking, and ask about his or her recommendations regarding health trackers and apps. A clear and accurate look at your health habits, and the resulting motivation to improve your health, could help save your life.

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