Fitness trackers

a doctor speaks – The Minnesota Daily

Your couch can easily win against your fitness tracker if you let it.

To follow up on my previous article on fitness trackerI spoke with William Roberts, professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota, about fitness trackers in clinical settings. He had harsh realities to share.

Fitness trackers can be a useful tool for tracking activity, food intake, and basic health metrics over time. Despite this convenience, fitness trackers aren’t always helpful to doctors trying to encourage healthy habits in a clinical setting, Roberts said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

While fitness trackers can have several benefits, Roberts said habit-building is probably not one of them. “I am not convinced that the devices change their behavior. I feel like active people want to keep track of what they’re doing and inactive people aren’t particularly interested,” he said.

Roberts himself uses fitness tracking: Under Armour’s MapMyFitness app. This app uses your phone’s built-in GPS technology to track distance, route, and speed for activities like running, walking, and biking.

Consistent with his personal fitness tracking choices, Roberts said that in general, fitness trackers are most useful for recording distance and time related to activity. However, fitness trackers and all their colorful features may not be enough to get everyone moving. Roberts said while he encourages some of his patients to use the fitness tracking features on their devices, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Most of my patients have cell phones that have built-in activity trackers, and I encourage my patients to use them if it helps or motivates them to exercise, but I don’t want to create a barrier to activity by asking patients to use the devices,” Roberts said.

Roberts suggested that a financial incentive in the form of discounted health insurance might be more effective than fitness trackers in getting people to adopt healthier, more active habits. With health insurance costs these days, I can believe that tracking activity and increasing the number of steps for a reduction would be attractive.

Apart from exercise tracking, fitness trackers are able to track your sleep patterns and how long you are sedentary during the day. Some can even calculate”stress management scores.”

Roberts said he’s much more interested in getting people off the couch than tracking their exercise, and while he’s not very familiar with the stress management scores offered on the Fitbit platform, he’s ready to support it if it helps people manage their stress. and mental health.

In terms of clinical utility, the heart monitoring features of fitness trackers are much more appealing to Roberts.

“You can get trackers that will record your heartbeat and produce a high-quality image comparable to the medical device I can order for patients,” Roberts said. He added that in some cases these fitness trackers are also a cheaper option.

Roberts said some of his patients have been able to detect instances of atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat, using these features in fitness trackers. This is a big deal. So much so that he has an upcoming academic manuscript on the topic of heart rhythm diagnostics in wearable technology, which is not yet in press.

This aligns with what I mentioned in my previous article about the ability of health tracking devices to reduce some costs in the clinical setting. A cheaper way to get good heart monitoring data also has the potential to remove some of the cost hesitation in seeking these types of medical tests: a win for both patient and doctor.

Roberts said that since there are significant benefits to increasing activity, the goal — encouraging healthy habits — is more important than the strategy. “Inactivity is linked to all non-communicable diseases, and anything that gets people off the couch is a huge public health benefit,” he said.

It’s true. A paper published in Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Science in 2012 describes that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to “disuse syndrome”, which can lead to premature aging, obesity, cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal frailty, depression , etc.

This paper also noted that the earlier you increase physical activity in your life, the more likely you are to see benefits as you age if you maintain these habits.

It seems that wearing a smartwatch is not an easy shortcut to health and fitness. But, it’s still essential that you find a way to maintain healthy fitness levels through a means that works for you. The quality of your middle age and older years depends on it.

Would you like Allison to continue on this topic or explore something specific? Contact her at [email protected] with questions, comments or story ideas.