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.