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Get motivated to get fit with a wearable device

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published December 25, 2019

 Carolyn Wilson said that her Garmin device helps her track her running progress.

Carolyn Wilson said that her Garmin device helps her track her running progress.

Photo provided by Carolyn Wilson

 Wearable activity monitors can track things  like how long and far a  person ran or walked, along with the number of steps  they took in a day.

Wearable activity monitors can track things like how long and far a person ran or walked, along with the number of steps they took in a day.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

METRO DETROIT — Carolyn Wilson, of St. Clair Shores, got her first activity tracker three years ago — a Fitbit.

“I liked how their app ... linked with Weight Watchers. I could track my points in Weight Watchers and my activity so that when I reached so many points with my steps, then I would get more points (and) I could eat more,” she explained. “The app tracked my weight loss.”

The accelerometer inside wearable devices such as Fitbits, and Apple, Garmin and Polar watches measures the movement of the human body and then converts that into the total steps taken, said Oakland University professor Myung Choi, from the university’s Department of Human Movement Science.

“It gives us the immediate feedback of the physical activity, so if you are encouraged to move more ... it’s going to give you instant feedback, which is good to increase the physical activity level day by day,” he said. “It is good to know if your lifestyle is sedentary, and then if you sit for a long time, it’s going to give you some feedback.”

Many people don’t realize just how long they sit, he explained, so wearable devices can help combat that sedentary lifestyle by encouraging movement every so often. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with many health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity, Choi added.

“It’s going to help the people to move more, but ... it all depends on the people, how they are encouraged,” he said.

That may be why some of the apps associated with the devices turn fitness into a type of game, with its users earning badges, clearing move bars or completing activity rings, depending on the device and their level of activity throughout the day.

“Life is busy, and you don’t know how much activity you did yesterday or the day before, but if you see the activity on the tracker, then you do know how much activity you’ve done previously,” Choi said. “If you are really encouraged, then definitely it’s going to help you. It’s going to ... improve your physical activity and (help you) accomplish your goals.”

For Wilson, that meant a change in devices as she began to reach for new goals.

“When I started to get more into actually running, I had to switch to Garmin because the Fitbit, it wasn’t conducive to what I was trying to do with tracking my running,” she said.

With the Fitbit device she was using, she had to track her runs through the Fitbit app, but her phone’s location tracker wasn’t accurate.

“I really wasn’t getting the whole picture on what I was doing,” she said.

Switching to a Garmin Forerunner, Wilson liked that she could track her runs with just a touch of a button on the watch. Some models of Fitbit, Apple watches and other devices have similar functions.

“When you’re running, you can check your pace, see if you need to slow down, speed up. You’re getting real-time knowledge,” she said.

Some devices also track heart rate, which allows users to measure the intensity of their workout and how well they sleep through the night.

“Every morning, I check my sleep and I laugh. I should just be able to tell, myself, how I slept,” Wilson said.

But she said that features like the indicator that tells her how much deep sleep she got versus light sleep actually are helpful to explain why she feels well rested on a day when she may not have gotten a full eight hours of sleep.

Setting a goal is the first step to figuring out which fitness tracker is best for each person. Someone who needs reminders to take daily steps may enjoy a more minimal tracker, while someone who is training to run a race or compete in a triathlon may be looking for a device with more bells and whistles, including a heart rate monitor; a gyroscope to determine if the user is standing, sitting, cycling or swimming; a GPS system for location; or a barometer to measure altitude, which can calculate how many flights of stairs have been climbed.

Many devices also offer smartwatch features that alert users to incoming texts or calls and offer the opportunity to install other apps on the device.

Choi said that many activity tracking apps encourage users to take 10,000 steps per day. Depending on how tall a person is, he said that 2,000 steps are roughly equivalent to a mile, so the recommendation is a ballpark goal for a “normal adult.”

“If you see the steps below 5,000, it means your lifestyle is sedentary, (whereas) 7,500, your activity life is somewhat active, and more than 10,000 steps means that your lifestyle is pretty active,” he said.

Heart rate monitoring can help users understand and achieve a certain intensity level during their workouts. Choi said that 150 minutes of moderate physical activity is recommended per week, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity. Using a wearable activity tracker with a heart rate monitor included can help users recognize when their physical activity reaches the moderate or vigorous threshold.

Choi said that many wearable devices do have one drawback in that they may not track workouts like cycling, yoga or weightlifting accurately without additional add-on technology or third-party apps. But for normal life, he said, the accelerometer is going to help most people gauge their level of activity.

Choi said that the social aspect of the apps connected to the devices can help motivate people the same way that working out with a partner could.

“We always recommend to do a physical activity with friends (or) family because if you work with them, exercise with them, they are going to motivate you, promote you to more exercise,” he said. “That’s going to help people to increase their physical activity level from a sedentary life.”

Wilson agreed.

“I’m friends with lots of really good runners on Garmin (Connect), so I usually like to compare my running to their running,” she said. “What are these all-star runners running? Am I doing the same mileage as them, or is my pace similar to theirs? What should I shoot for?

“I ... like how people can ‘like’ your runs and you can ‘like’ other people’s runs and you can comment on them. That is encouraging.”