How fitness trackers boost your health

These must-have gadgets can help improve your fitness, weight loss and sleep quality.

25 August 2015
by Rachel McGregor

A quality fitness tracker can be a solid investment in your health. Not only do these nifty little devices tell you how much exercise you’re getting, how many kilojoules you’ve burned and how your workouts compare, they can also measure things like your sleep quality and heart rate.

But why on earth would you want to track your every waking (or sleeping, as the case may be) movement? As it happens there is significant evidence that tracking your actions can help to foster healthier behaviour. For example, a Harvard study found that pedometer use increased physical activity in subjects by 27 percent.

“Fitness trackers are especially beneficial for those who are motivated to do something about their health,” says biokinecisist Avinesh Pursad from Lander & Pursad Biokineticists. “It definitely benefits people who want to track their progress, but also gives them the psychological stimulus on how they are either improving or deteriorating.” 

In short, knowledge is power – the hard data provided by fitness trackers can empower us with an accurate picture of our efforts to stay healthy, showing us where we excel, and where we need to improve. Let’s take a look at some of the most common features, how useful they are, and how they work.

Pedometer

A tracker that monitors the number of steps taken each day is the most popular feature, which explains why it comes standard with virtually all trackers. You can set goals, such as 10 000 steps per day, and if, by the end of the day, you’re lagging behind a little, perhaps all you need to do is park a little further away from the grocery store on the way home to make up the steps.

GPS

This is great if walking, cycling or running is your thing. A GPS will be able to track your route, how far you walked/ran/cycled in a session and how long it took you. You should be able to sync your fitness tracker to popular apps like RunKeeper. It can be very motivating to see, over time, how your speed and fitness improves, and you may be encouraged, for example, to set more ambitious goals.

Heart rate

A heart rate tracker is also a popular feature, which allows you to determine the safety of your exercise regime – if your heart rate rises above the normal range, you might be doing harm, so consult your doctor to discover your range.

It can also tell you when you need to work harder, since as you get fitter, the same exercise will have a reduced impact on your heart rate. “Heart-rate monitors are a great indication to see if you are working hard enough during your fitness session, mainly during cardio, or if you are slacking off a bit,” says Tony Paladin of Hugo & Paladin Biokineticists. “It’s also fantastic for pregnant women, cardiac patients, or if you aren't feeling well to monitor that you are not pushing your heart too hard.”

Sleep

This is an interesting feature that can help you keep tabs on the quality of your sleep. Once you set your tracker to ‘sleep mode’, it will keep track of your movements while you sleep and translate this into data. If you have a sleep disorder, this is great to have as it can help professionals to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

Kilojoules

Although doubts have been raised as to the accuracy of fitness trackers’ “kilojoules burned” tools, this function can still give you a good idea of how much energy you expended during your workout, which is all most of us couch potatoes need! (Just a warning though: most fitness trackers measure calories, not kilojoules, so you may have to convert using an app like MyFitnessPal.)

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