2019 is just around the corner and no doubt many of you have already started planning out your New Year’s Resolution. I think the most popular resolution is fitness related, whether you are trying to lose weight, go to the gym more, or just jog a few days a week. I’ve been a gym rat for well over 20 years. I know how crowded the gym gets at the beginning of a new year.
In the last few years, I’ve become addicted to the data from my wrist worn Fitbit tracker to help measure my workouts and plan out the amount of food I eat for the day. But how accurate are these types of devices and can they really help you reach your fitness goals in 2019?
The handful of fitness trackers that I have used over the last few years are able to track the following types of data: steps walked, pulse rate, calories burned, timed workouts, and sleep quantity and quality.
Wrist worn trackers measure how much blood the heart pumps by a light sensor. The sensor measures how much light is reflected resulting in your pulse rate. A few things can interfere with the accuracy including the tracker bouncing on your wrist too much during your activity or having tattoos on the wrist. Chest strap sensors measure electrical activity and are worn over the heart.
During the infancy of fitness trackers, chest strap sensors were always more accurate during testing. Chest strap worn trackers have been very accurate for years during high intensity exercise measuring over 99% accurate. Until this year, wrist worn trackers could have a very wide variance between 8%-40% off. This would get worse as the activity got more intense, but this is beginning to change.
The well-known tech review website, Tom’s Guide, reviewed the heart rate accuracy of the most popular wrist worn heart rate monitors in comparison to chest straps. Caitlin McGarry’s October 2018 review found the majority of the new wrist trackers were within just a few percentage points of the chest straps. This is very good to know if you are a data nerd like myself.
There are additional data tracking points getting implemented in new devices as well. The new Apple Watch 4 released this year is the first FDA approved wrist device to implement EKG monitoring to measure electrical activity in the heart. Other manufacturers such as Garmin and Fitbit are not that far behind and new advances are expected to include blood pressure monitoring, glucose tracking, and oxygen levels.
There is also a social component to fitness trackers. If a group of your friends have the same types of devices, you can challenge each other to different daily or weekly contests such as how many steps you walk in a day or week.
So how can you use a fitness tracker to your benefit?
This is what works for me.
The first thing I do is calculate how many calories my body needs to maintain my current weight. You can google calorie calculators. It will be specific to your age, weight, height, M/F, and activity level. I measure my food on a digital scale and use the app MyFitnessPal to track how much food I eat during the day. If I am trying to lose body fat, I eat less calories or if I am trying to build muscle, I will eat more.
I then set my Fitbit app to measure how many calories I need to burn during the day. When I am in the gym, I use the stop watch to track the length of my workout and how many calories I burn during the workout. I also have my Fitbit remind me to move around at least once per hour if it detects I’ve been sitting too long.
Finally, I have the Fitbit track my sleep. My goal is seven and half hours a night. I have personally found that a few nights of great sleep have a dramatic positive impact on how much weight I lose.
If you are considering your first fitness tracker and you are relatively new to fitness. I suggest finding out what your circle of friends use and get the same type. Then you can get into their circle and encourage each other to reach your goals.
Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy 2019. Here’s to your new fitness lifestyle goal!