The Rise of The Fitness Trackers

Well Hello, New Year! Another year under our belt, another set of resolutions! Let me guess, you too vow to lose weight and get fit this year… and last year and the year before that. Let’s admit it. It’s really hard to stay fit here in Riyadh.  We tend to eat a lot and exercise less when we’re here. It takes supreme effort to get fit. Whyyyy? Why is a roll of that garlic shawarma worth 500 calories!? Why!? (Excuse me while I cry in a corner before I continue typing). *sniff*

But it wasn’t always like this. When I was in the Philippines last year, I ran 3 kilometers and then cycled for 3-4 kilometers everyday. I joined yoga classes twice a week. I ate clean unprocessed food and woke up early to jog. In a month’s time, I lost 8.8 lbs without doing any drastic diets or cleansing. I tracked my activities using phone apps like Runtastic and logged my food intake using MyFitnessPal. I was motivated by the calories I burned. I didn’t measure my weight every day.  Instead, I counted calories to gauge my progress.

FITNESS TRACKERS

But that was last year and I’ve been off my fitness goals since I got back. So like many of you, I’ve also committed myself to rebooting my body and getting back on track, fitness-wise. Hopefully this won’t be just another New Year’s resolution. I tried to do some brisk walking around parks near our home and I honestly feel great coming home from these walks. We’re slowly changing our grocery list to add more fruits, veggies and lean meat. I’ve been braving the treadmill for at least 20 minutes a day. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. I just need a way to keep myself motivated and not reward myself with food like a puppy.

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Calorie counting was fun for me. I even used my phone pedometer to count my steps whenever I’m out shopping or doing chores. It’s a common notion that people should take 10,000 to be more active. According to a research study on How Many Steps/Day is Enough for Adults (International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011) “Normative data indicate that healthy adults typically take between 4,000 and 18,000 steps/day, and that 10,000 steps/day is reasonable for this population, although there are notable “low active populations”. In the same study, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano noted that 10,000 steps roughly equated to 300 kcal for an average middle-aged Japanese man.

There’s a sense of fulfillment and achievement when you log in for the day and see that you’re below your calorie allowance for the day. So I bought a Fitness Tracker. Generally speaking, Fitness Trackers are gadgets that track your calorie expenditure based on how active you are while wearing the device. The first time I saw one was back in 2012 when Jarir Bookstore and Nike first released the Nike Fuel Band. But with the hefty price and limited apps to sync it with, the idea  intrigued me but not enough to shell out 900 SR. But like any new technology, it only took a year or two for the technology to advance and the trend to pick up.

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The Fitbit Zip, a basic pedometer that syncs with your PC.

You may have noticed these new gadgets in Jarir. Most of them are masculine looking armbands while some are clip on devices. Fitness trackers’ popularity is gaining momentum amongst athletes and regular folks. But what do they really do? Is it necessary? After all, many smart phones now have pedometers built in and you can easily download apps like Runtastic to track steps and exercise logs. Why would you need an extra device?

While I loved using my phone to track calories I eat and burn, there were drawbacks to using a phone app like Runtastic to track activities:

  1. I found that pedometer apps drained my phone battery like crazy when it was working on the background. Two weeks ago, I went to a Panda to do some grocery shopping. I used Runtastic when I got off the car and made sure that I had a full battery but my phone died even before I finished my grocery trip. To top it off, that was just 92 minutes of brisk walking around the store.
  2. Fitness apps like Runtastic or Pedometer also log movements even when I’m riding a car. I noticed this when I was running a bus and jeep in the Philippines. Sometimes, I would forget that I was tracking and would later discover that my steps tracked were off by a few thousand steps.
  3. My phone tends to heat up inside my pocket, bag or armband when using fitness apps in the background. Though it does not shut off, it’s still very uncomfortable to see my phone working so hard.

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I have read numerous articles of people stuck in desk jobs who use their fitness trackers to move from their desk, use the stairs instead of the elevator and even park farther from their office building to rank up more steps. Personally, whenever I see my Fitbit steps I tend to be more mindful of what I do with my body. For instance, when I watch a TV show I would stand instead. Sometimes I walk around the room while folding clean laundry.

Nowadays, Fitness Trackers can track your sleep patterns, calorie deficit, steps and heart rate. Some even have built-in clocks and soft alarm features to wake you up or remind you to move around. It gives you an estimated calorie burn for the day. I say estimated because you can’t really predict the exact calories a person burns unless you’re hooked up to machines that measure your heart rate. It’s different for everyone because of your body mass. Some have bigger bones and others have more muscle. The numbers registered by these apps are estimates based on your height, weight, age and gender.

These devices come in different designs and swappable covers to match your mood and style. They can be connected to many fitness applications like Nike+, MyFitnessPal, Runtastic and even games like Wokamon. It, of course, let’s you share your fitness success with friends through social networking sites.

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So the truthful answer is “it depends”.  It depends on whether or not you’re really going to use it. Do you like seeing results? It’s not going to be effective if you will just ignore the alarms and the numbers. You’re not going to miraculously lose weight just by wearing one. You’ll have to move. Take advantage of your neighborhood park , join a badminton club or sign up for a gym.

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