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Extremely popular wearable fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and the Jawbone Up count your burned calories, measure your heart rate, follow your footsteps and plot your sleep habits. Such tracking can be beneficial to keeping on top of your weight loss or fitness goals, say researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who found in a 2012 study that people who kept a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who didn’t. We asked Pacific Medical Centers’ sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Maeda (right), to weigh in. His verdict? Tracking is great, but it needn’t be high tech—even a pen and paper will do wonders to keep you in tune with your progress. “As long as it gets people active and keeps them active, it’s a good thing.”
Are there benefits to using wearable devices, apps and websites for health tracking?
Absolutely. Tracking your fitness and what you’re doing when is great. [It doesn’t] matter which way you do it, whether it’s with a pen and paper or with these devices. It gives you more reinforcement, keeps you on track.
The drawback is in terms of how accurate they actually are. They’re probably not that much different than monitors on a treadmill, elliptical machine, etc. It’s a good estimate. The best kind [of heart rate monitors] have the band around your chest. Those are as accurate as you can get. [Fitness trackers] can work, but they are more like a great pedometer. However, it’s great if it helps people to stay active and gets people engaged—the goal is to get to that next step. [For example] for the Nike Fuel, you plug it in and it shows what [the user is] doing in comparison to others; I think it can be motivating to see “Oh, I’m in the 88th percentile, I’m going to take the stairs!”
What’s the best way to use them?
Measuring calories, for example, is a hard thing to do. Using them is a great way of tracking your activity during the day; but for athletic goals, I would go old school, having a pen and paper that says you did this workout for this long, you can make your own rating of one to 10 to note how intense you felt it was. Make it simple.
How do you put the data into perspective?
It’s important to know from where you started and where you are now. It’s a way you can’t really cheat. Numbers don’t lie. Or it tells you you’re doing better than you think. I had a patient that said, “I’m not getting any stronger!” But when you look at her regimen, you say, “Look, you were lifting 10 pounds but it’s 25 pounds now.” Hindsight helps; we get lost with that sometimes. +