Getting Active with Activity Trackers

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • It’s the start to a new year and fitness is on everyone’s mind, mine included. In the last five years, I gained about 10 lbs. and so I decided that enough is enough and I committed to getting back into shape. Over the last year, I bought a treadmill and my husband gave me a pedometer for my birthday. However, the pedometer is becoming old school since the invasion of fitness wearables coming into the market place. What are the differences between fitness wearable and pedometers, and are the wearables worth the investment? Fitness wearables are a new technology that track steps, but they also allow you to set activity goals, calories burned and some can even track your quality of sleep.

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    One thing about any of these fitness devices is they are not built for people who want total accuracy. These devices are meant to give you a ballpark figure. In fact, my experience with them was quite variable; sort of like a blood glucose meter, where we have to deal with a 20 percent variability, but at least we know "kind of" where we stand. The variability of the fitness tracker is probably greater than 20 percent, though, so if you're looking for an accurate measure that shows your distance, fitness wearables may not be for you.


    To start, let me review my Omron Go Smart pedometer. 


    Wearing the pedometer has been very helpful in that it showed me I wasn’t reaching my minimum goal of 10,000 steps per day.  I had to really work at it, but now I know what I need to do and I don’t have to rely on the pedometer to tell me if I’m close to my goal at the end of my day. It’s also great for continued motivation. Once I put it on, I know what I have to do and, in that respect, it’s like a virtual coach. For this reason, I’m a real fan of using a pedometer.


    The pedometer does have some drawbacks. The pedometer is not small; it is akin to having an insulin pump on my hip and bumping into it was a bit of a problem. If I moved it to my arm, then it didn’t track my steps as well. It needs the cadence of your stride to really work. I tried tacking it to my shoe, only to have to fiddle with it to get it tight, so it wouldn’t slap the top of my foot. Thatit just didn’t feel right. (Admittedly, I’m very sensitive to touch and so this may not be everyone’s problem.)


    In comes the fitness wearable. Last June, I bought a Misfit ShineThis relatively new device is a little bigger than a quarter. I love the design of this tracker. It’s sleek and modern and the size was the key selling point for me, because you can wear it so discretely. The Shine comes with a variety of ways to wear it, giving you the option of sport band, necklace, or clasp.  I chose the clasp, because as a massage therapist I can’t wear things that dangle in front of me nor can I wear anything on my wrist.

    The Shine tracks steps, calories burned, and also tells how many miles you've covered. My experience with this device is that it is far less accurate than a pedometer. In fact, when I started to have some trouble with my Shine, the tech said to focus on the goal setting and not on the step calculations. My husband has one as well and what we both noticed is that the measurement of activity varies greatly from day to day for the device. For example, yesterday he walked for an hour and easily met his goal. Today, he did a run/walk on the treadmill for the same amount of time and his Shine only had him at a quarter of the way to his goal.


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    With just a tap, you can switch the mode from exercise to sleep and it gives feedback on quality of sleep. I seem to average 3.5 hours of deep sleep, known as REM sleep, per night. This is an interesting bit of information for me, because the average REM sleep lasts 90 minutes and you are supposed to average 4-5 cycles through the night. According to the tracker, I’m not doing that well. I know this to be true, because I’m often awake with a low blood sugar during the night. I have some reading to do to understand more about improving sleep habits and slapping that low into oblivion!


    The Shine is definitely still working out its start-up wrinkles, but I think it will be a very versatile device with good information to offer users. Also, since the device runs through an app, the one really cool feature is that upgrades to the device are made within the app, which means that you won’t have to buy a new device every time there is an improvement.


    Getting out for a walk is a healthy habit to embrace and maintaining the quality of exercise is equally important and these little devices just help me take steps in the right direction. 

Published On: January 15, 2014