Fitness trackers- pointless?

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I waxed lyrical for some time about the Apple Watch and the fitness capabilities that it offers. I stand by that opinion, to a point, but have realised that the disconnect between the tracking and the user is quite substantial. This is not a fault of the Apple Watch, it is just the way it is.

I reverted back to a real watch and lost 16lbs in weight in the past 6 weeks. On a particularly hot day I realised that I was struggling to do a lot and then caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window and was stunned into doing something about it.

After 6 weeks of eating healthily and carefully choosing foods I feel a whole lot better. I can do 100 press-ups without too much stress again and 100 sit-ups straight after. 6 weeks ago 10 press-ups felt like incredibly hard work. I feel lighter, have much more energy and there was not a fitness tracker in sight.

I am now wearing a Fitbit Charge 2 to calculate my heart rate, my weight loss through the Aria scales (not convinced by that particular device by the way) and to see how much I am moving on a daily basis. My average steps before were approximately 5,000 per day, but they are now 15,000 and that step change came about not through stats or alerts telling me to move, but by getting a shock and deciding to move more.

Of course fitness trackers are far from pointless because they can give you motivation, keep your mind on the task at hand and do offer a raft of benefits, but nothing comes close to just wanting to lose weight and get fit. If you really want something it is easy, but if you don’t want it a fitness tracker can actually work negatively. It can lead you into a false sense that you are getting fitter when the reality is that all you are doing is looking at numbers and then eating a cake.

Categories: Articles, Fitness Trackers

8 replies

  1. Screw steps, I want a really good calorie and sleep tracker.

    I know the former is still a work in progress, but are any of the sleep trackers worth it? and I’m likely to learn anything that can be addressed?

  2. @Shaun – Sounds like when I finally quit smoking. I was in the car with my then 4 year old son when he asked me why I smoked because it smelled so bad. Shortly thereafter I quit.

    @Kirk – Depends what you want to track and why. Sleep trackers can tell you approximately whether you’re in deep sleep or REM sleep or in between. Some purport to tell when you’re awake. Whether all that correlates to good or bad sleep is based on the algorithm they use. Whether that means anything is, as usual, debatable. The catch is, at least in Canada, they don’t give you respiration or tell you when you stop breathing. I.e. sleep apnea. You can use all the sleep trackers in the world but if you constantly wake up tired for no apparent reason (in other words, you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to do to get a good night’s sleep), then it’s time to get tested professionally. And I speak from experience.

    • I guess my problem is, what is “tired”? I think I generally feel pretty ok, but I’m not sure I couldn’t feel better…

      • But is a sleep rating going to help? If it’s a good number, you’ll look at it and think “well I guess this is as good as it gets” when it might be better, whereas if it’s a bad number, you’ll think “oh my, I have to do something about that” when it might be fine.

        If 10 minutes after you wake from a normal night’s sleep and feel reasonably energetic and ready to face the world, and don’t need a 2 hour afternoon nap, then things are probably fine. And as always, everyone’s different. Your fine might be my fantastic or my sluggish.

        I went to the doctor when I used to run out of steam mid afternoon. I was tested and found to have sever sleep apnea. I started using a CPAP machine and things improved. However, the mask you have to wear is an annoyance and not necessarily conducive to continuous sleep. When I started to tear it off in the middle of the night, I found what I believe is a different solution. By then I had learned to sleep with my mouth closed and to sleep on my side as much as possible. Don’t know if I still suffer from sleep apnea but I rarely wake tired and rarely want to nap in the afternoon. The thing is that without the mask blowing air into my nose, I wouldn’t have learned to keep my mouth shut while sleeping (note the qualification).

        • Wouldn’t the sleep rating highlight the sleep apnea?

          • It depends what the sleep rating is based on and what the sleep tracker tracks. Sleep apnea occvurs when you stop breathing. There are various causes. Here’s a very specific definition of an apnea: An apnea is indicated if there is an 80%/75% (Respironics/ResMed) reduction in airflow for 10 seconds compared to the average airflow over an extended period of several minutes or if there is no airflow detected for 10 seconds. So it’s not a simple “are you breathing”. And if the tracker thinks that a slowed pulse or heart rate is a sign of deep sleep, it can be very misleading. So it’s going to depend on what the tracker is measuring and the algorithm it uses.

          • Ok, guess it won’t get all cases. Where I think fitness trackers do well is trends. Say your sleep decreases or your heart rate is up by 10 on the average for a week. There is some merit in that.

          • Absolutely. Any unexplained change bears noting. The problem is establishing the baseline. If I start using a sleep tracker today, ans everything looks the same for a month say, that doesn’t mean any more than nothing has changed significantly. It doesn’t tell me whether the current state is good or bad. That is, unless you can look at the detailed numbers and see whether they are considered reasonably normal.

            A while after I was diagnosed, I picked up a ResMed S+. It’s a device that is supposed to measure your sleep using ultrasound to determine your respiration. And it gives you these nice graphs that tell you what stage of sleep you’re in and so on. But it won’t give you the raw respiration numbers or tell you whether you might have sleep apnea. That’s because, in Canada, at least in Ontario, medical tests of that nature can’t be done in the home. And regardless, they’d need to be approved by the appropriate regulatory agency.

            The CPAP machine took readings and gave you numbers, but it was prescribed and you had to wear it. I was getting great numbers so, in consultation with a sleep technician, I turned down the air pressure to see if the apnea numbers went up. They didn’t. But the main thing is that I’m not normally tired the way I remember being.

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