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Fitness Trackers - Are they a worthwhile investment? by Matthew Romans

Fitness trackers have become an increasingly popular product on the market. In the past, I would see people wearing them while they were performing some type of physical activity or competing in an event/race, but now I even see people in business clothes wearing them. According to one statistic I read, people who wear fitness trackers tend to be 30 to 40 percent more active than those who do not. How exactly is this measured? Is this an example of selection bias (ex. more active people happen to enjoy wearing fitness trackers)? Do fitness trackers really provide substantial benefit? Are they an essential accessory in one's pursuit of health and fitness? These are questions that I asked myself as I recently examined a list compiled by Health magazine of the best fitness trackers that are available on the market.

The fitness trackers on the list ranged in price from as little as $20 to as much as $450. Some of the features included tracking the number of steps traveled, miles traveled, calories burned, a built-in GPS, and the ability to measure your speed of movement. Other features include a water-resistant design, the ability to measure water temperature, and also a sensor that encourages you to get up and move every so often. I should note that most smart phones now have applications (most of which are free) that can measure most of the things that fitness trackers measure. The main advantage of the fitness tracker, in this case, is that it can be worn on the wrist instead of having to be carried.

However, fitness trackers really do not track fitness. One of the most common myths perpetuated by the commercial fitness industry is that exercise is about burning calories. It is not. No form of activity (jogging, swimming, high-intensity weight training or otherwise) burns a significant number of calories when you consider what you can eat in a very short period of time. Bear in mind that any tally of calories burned will also include the calories you burned through your basal metabolic rate, so the number on your fitness tracker can be misleading. Also, if just walking a certain number of steps in a day or getting your heart rate to a certain level were effective ways to improve your health and fitness, there would be way fewer sick, overweight people in the world.

Exercise is about safely, effectively, and efficiently stimulating body improvements by triggering a growth mechanism (achieved by pushing to and beyond momentary muscular fatigue), and then allowing the body to recover and adapt without being overtaxed by excessive activity. Some of the fitness trackers I researched have some nice features, but none can really track the cellular, metabolic and cardiovascular stimuli of real exercise.

In my opinion, fitness trackers may be useful if you are training for a specific race or event (marathon, triathlon, etc.), but if you're just going for general fitness they're probably not necessary.

Posted November 08, 2017 by Tim Rankin