Fitness tracking devices: Does all this data make a difference?
Have you noticed your friends and co-workers wearing those wristbands? You know the ones. The bands that resemble watches but are faceless and discreet.
The wristbands are commonly called wearable fitness trackers. Devices disguised as jewelry that can track things like movement, calorie burn, fitness goals, sleep and heart rate.
If you aren't wearing a fitness tracker, you might be the only one. Between April 2013 and March 2014, 3.3 million fitness tracking devices were sold in the U.S.
Phones can be fitness trackers, too, with apps such as Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal and Endomondo. These are just a few of the 31,537 health and fitness apps for download.
The fitness-app and wearable-device markets are expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next five years. Chelsey Lindahl, wellness dietitian at MultiCare Center for Healthy Living, isn't surprised by this projection.
She says fitness trackers help motivate people with information.
"Fitness trackers help people stay motivated by transforming long term goals into achievable daily goals," Lindahl said. "That can be tracking calories, activity steps, water intake, or all of the above."
So how do you choose the fitness tracking device or app that's right for you? And how do users benefit from tracking activity digitally?
"I didn't know how sedentary I was."
Fitness trackers measure movement. Most often that means steps, distance and speed. Often people using these devices are surprised to learn they don’t move as much as they thought they did. The same surprise can happen when users log food intake.
"In any behavior change, two primary aspects are goal setting and self monitoring," Lindahl said. "Self awareness and self monitoring is an invaluable tool in weight management and wellness."
One user told us she was surprised to learn how inactive she was during her work day. She now takes the stairs so she can get extra steps in her day.
"Wearing the wristband helps me reach my goals."
Looking for accountability? Fitness apps and wearable devices keep your goals and progress top-of-mind—and your calorie consumption and activity levels front and center.
Social features allow you to connect with friends and share progress. Many experts believe having a fitness buddy can help keep people on track. A fitness app user told us he created healthy competition with his friends using the same app to stay motivated to ride his bike. Another user said she felt encouraged when her friends gave her kudos in an app.
"I wish I could find a fitness tracker for my dog."
You are in luck. Fitness trackers aren’t just for humans anymore—you can buy one for your canine companion with WhistleGPS. WhistleGPS syncs with owner smartphones and sends alerts about dog location and activity levels.
"So, does all this data make a difference?"
Wearable fitness trackers and fitness apps are not a magic solution. The devices alone won't help you lose weight or train for that marathon but the information the devices collect can help you make healthy choices and achieve your goals.
Our tip: Think about how a device or app's features align with your goals before you buy. Ask a few friends and co-workers which trackers work for them.
Do you have a favorite fitness-tracking device? Tell us in the comments.
About The Author
Jen is our social media specialist. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More stories from Jen