track changes

Can wear­ing a fit­ness tracker 24/7 re­ally make you health­ier? Kate Guest finds out


Knowl­edge is power, but is know­ing just how un­fit you are enough to pro­pel you to the gym? To find out, I started wear­ing the Fit­bit Alta HR three months ago. What have I learned since? That I walk and sleep less than I should. No news there. What I re­ally didn’t know was just how poor my sleep qual­ity is, how high my heart rate can be, and how mo­ti­vated I would be­come to fix them both.

First, I down­loaded the Fit­bit app, in­put my stats and goals for steps walked, calo­ries burned, wa­ter drunk, and ac­tive min­utes. Then I strapped on the Fit­bit and for­got about it un­til I got a buzz 10 min­utes be­fore the hour, telling me I had to walk an­other 60 steps to reach my goal. Soon I was go­ing out of my way to walk more, whether tak­ing the long way to the printer or do­ing laps of my bed­room at 11.45pm to reach my tar­get, at which the Fit­bit buzzed and erupted into pixel­lated fire­works. How­ever it’s not great at mea­sur­ing steps when your hands are push­ing things, such as trol­leys or lug­gage at air­ports – where I do a lot of my walk­ing. I learned to over­come that by mak­ing an ed­u­cated guess based on dis­tance cov­ered, some count­ing, and man­u­ally in­putting the steps.

The Alta HR is the slimmest fit­ness track­ing de­vice to con­tin­u­ously mea­sure heart rate – my favourite fea­ture. Dur­ing ex­er­cise, it in­stantly tells me when I’m in the fat-burn­ing zone. At night, it mea­sures changes in my heart rate to cal­cu­late how long I spend in light, deep and REM sleep stages, and how long I’m awake. It was shock­ing to learn I’m of­ten awake for an hour or more, and that I av­er­age only six hours’ sleep a night. Fit­bit can also make links be­tween your daily ac­tiv­ity and sleep pat­terns, point­ing out, for ex­am­ple, that you sleep bet­ter on days when you ex­er­cise.

Fit­bit doesn’t just lead you into de­spair with all this knowl­edge though; it uses its in­sights to of­fer tips and workouts from real train­ers, via the app, which I love do­ing at home. But for me the Fit­bit Alta HR’s USP is that it makes me com­pete with my­self. One look at my wrist is enough to get me off my seat. Short of do­ing the work for you, it makes healthy liv­ing as easy as it gets.

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