Craig Bennett, M.D.
The technology is amazing, the various features can provide a wealth of information about your health, and there's definitely a "cool" factor. But is an activity tracker for everyone?
Activity trackers range from basic devices to ones loaded with features, and they’re available at prices to fit about every budget.
If you're considering one for yourself or as a holiday gift, here are 5 things to keep in mind:
1. Tracking the right metrics
Before investing in an activity tracker, talk with your health care provider. There may be some health metrics that would be more beneficial to track than others. There's also the chance for information overload and confusion that could lead to unneeded assessments.
2. Ease of use
Although some activity trackers have more features and require more setup than others, most are simple to use. After you've set up the device, just strap it on your wrist or clip to your shirt and go. Look for a tracker with a display that can be read in different levels of lighting and is comfortable to wear.
The amount of information you want to collect may influence your choice of device. Most activity trackers calculate time spent in an activity and distance traveled. Some also can monitor your heart rate, oxygen level, sleep quality and length, and calorie intake and the number burned while active. If you're a swimmer, look for a waterproof model that also tracks your activity in the water.
Activity trackers can help you set and reach goals by giving cues and rewards to encourage healthy behaviors. They can even provide social support through apps or websites. Many allow you to upload your data to a computer, smartphone or apps so you can electronically track your progress.
Recent studies show decent reliability, especially with the newer, more advanced devices.
Using your activity tracker
Once it's set up, your activity tracker can become a partner and strong motivator in reaching your health goals. To integrate it into your activity routine, establish a baseline. For instance, go about your day and note how many steps you walked. Then set short-term goals, such as adding another 1,000 steps. These short-term goals become the building blocks to long-term goals, such as walking 6,000 steps a day. Track your progress, and as you meet your goals, set new ones.
Kids and activity trackers
As a parent, you're the best judge of whether your child is old enough and mature enough to reap the benefits of an activity tracker. Some kids may tire of it, while others may think it's the best gift ever. These devices can get kids moving, but some experts note they can take the fun out of play or even underscore body image issues. It's something to consider before investing in one.