Fitness trackers keep tabs on health metrics, prompt more activity

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With the explosion of smartwatches, fitness bands and other wearable tracking technologies in recent years, comes the word biometrics.

Biometrics, from the Greek for life measurements, is  a fancy term for physical measurements used to track a person’s weight, heart rate, physical activity and more. Tracking your physiological data over time is established in the medical, fitness and health fields.

“I wouldn’t say I emphasize that term,” says certified personal trainer Sindel Keister of Southlake YMCA.. “During a consult, I stick with ‘measurements.’ Biometrics is kind of a bigger word.”

Similarly to Keister, personal trainer Claire Spring of Anytime Fitness in Lowell talks about simply monitoring activities with clients, but she agrees the measurements are important. 

No matter what word you use, there are an increasing number of ways to measure physical activity with wearable health and fitness trackers.

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These devices include features such as goal-setting, sleep tracking, activity tracking, calorie tracking, heart monitoring and step counting. Wearers can share these fitness statistics with health or fitness professionals to make personalized workout plans. And they seem to be having important benefits.

“Activity trackers appear to be effective at increasing physical activity in a variety of age groups and clinical and non-clinical populations,” according to  “Effectiveness of wearable activity trackers to increase physical activity and improve health” published in 2022 in The Lancet Digital Health.

In their systematic review of recent studies, the authors found that activity trackers “appear to be effective at increasing physical activity in a variety of age groups and clinical and nonclinical populations.” The scientists found that people who wore health trackers while working out increased physical activity and “sufficient evidence to recommend the use of activity trackers.”

Jacki May-Hendrick, personal trainer at Anytime in Lowell, says fitness trackers help her stay in touch with her clients between their sessions. “It’s a great way for coaches to track people when they aren’t working out,” she says. This extra connection helps May-Hendrick suggest finer-tuned physical activity goals for her clients.

“I recommend to all my clients that they have some sort of smartwatch,” says Spring. “It allows us to see a lot about their body and how it functions.”

Ashley Zaideman, a personal trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Chesterton, also says trackers play a big role in her work with clients. “It lets me know where they’re currently at, and when to push and motivate them further and when to take an extra rest and bring their heart rate down.”

Spring and May-Hendrick also recommend these wearables as motivation aides.

“It’s a great accountability tool for the fitness coaches and the individual themselves,” says May-Hendrick. “It makes it easier for us to track them and help them reach their goals. If I see they haven’t done a workout, I’ll message them to ask ‘OK what are we doing today?’ ”

 The trainers are aware of the privacy concerns the technology raises and say they take steps to protect their clients.

According to Zaideman, Franciscan has “very strict network requirements and policies in place” to protect its user’s data, including keeping fitness apps on a “segmented connection.”

But anyone who plans to use a smart device should take steps to protect their data. These include choosing devices from reputable companies that provide information security options and discussing privacy before sharing date. 

Zaideman has been using fitness trackers for her workouts for years. For the last four, she’s been using a Myzone heart rate monitor to measure her exertion. “It makes a huge difference being able to actively see my heart rate rise and fall and helps me get a more intense workout.”

Keister has been using a Fitbit since getting one as a Christmas gift in 2019.

“I started using it right away to count steps,” she says.

Though wearables can provide helpful information, there are some things to know about using them. Though they are generally accurate, wearable strack some activities better than others.

“I would say for heart rate yes, I use it for my own pulse,” says Keister. “But there’s always a margin for error. They’re a good reference point.”

“I think with any tech you will have glitches,” says May-Hendrick. “Is it 100%?, No, but for the most part, it’s accurate enough.”

Spring says that different devices have varied accuracy. She recommends understanding the readings and cautions against expecting too much from fitness trackers. 

“A lot of people think that these devices are going to tell them if they are working out enough,” says Spring “The watch isn’t going to tell you what you need to do, it only tracks what you do.”

Picking a fitness tracker

As with anything you wear regularly, fitness trackers are personal. They should be comfortable and attractive as well as appropriate to your workout schedule and lifestyle. Do you run, walk or do strength training? Do you go on hours- long bike rides or do you just want a reminder to get up every hour?

Certified personal trainer Jacki May-Hendrick recommends that anyone thinking of buying a smartwatch or other wearable do research to pick the device best for them.

Options range from high-end multiuse smartwatches sold by companies including  Apple, Fitbit and Garmin to lower-end alternatives that focus solely on fitness tracking. Each device has different capabilities and you might want to consult with a health care and fitness professional before making your choice.

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