From wristbands, watches and necklaces to larger vest-like devices, the popularity and prevalence of fitness trackers has grown rapidly in the past few years. Also called “self-quantifiers,” fitness trackers are defined as wearable devices that monitor a person’s physical activity through recordings of heart rate, steps taken and/or calories burned. Not only do these devices monitor your movements, but many also give verbal commands. For example, a device may use your name to add a personal element of persuasion: “Mary. You’ve been sitting for three hours. Is it time for a walk?” While some may find this level of monitoring somewhat annoying, most agree that it is the ultimate way to measure and track how active we’re being in our daily lives.
Clinical psychologists have noted the importance of self-monitoring in maintaining overall health for decades. Want to motivate someone to stop smoking? Simply asking him or her to write down how many cigarettes he or she smokes each day, with no other instructions or information about health risks, will lead to a significant reduction in cigarettes smoked. Being mindful of our behaviors and feelings is what enables Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, to be so successful. Now, with the trend in wearable fitness trackers, the ability to monitor oneself and keep oneself accountable of fitness goals has been revolutionized. While the makers of these products initially envisioned their target demographic to be hardcore athletes, they have found that these devices hold mass allure.
The common theme across experiences with the trackers seems to be both a sense of satisfaction with activity gleaned from daily activities (e.g. not realizing that the leisurely morning walk with a neighbor was not the same as a rigorous, two mile walk each day), and an awakening into the activity “dead-zones” (e.g., learning that it’s typical to spend most of Sunday afternoons completely sedentary). As one blogger summarized in his review:
“At first, as I’d expected, I liked tracking myself. It lent a pleasing empiricism to my existence. I learned that on an average day—strolling to the subway, the office, and the lunch spot—I might tally 8,000 steps… On the flip side, I’d never realized quite how sedentary I become on winter weekends. Over the course of one snowy, couch-bound Saturday, I barely eked out 1,000 steps. I was like an obese panda lazing in a zoo habitat.”
These devices are truly powerful ways of increasing the level of knowledge each of us has about how we’re spending our days. They keep us accountable—there is no arguing with a step count.
And, seniors are not being left out of this revolution. In fact, the Columbus, Ohio Home Care Assistance office launched an innovative campaign called “Walk to Okinawa” where seniors are given wearable fitness trackers to record progress as they “walk” the 7,500 miles from Columbus, Ohio to Okinawa, Japan (the city renowned for being home to one of the longest living, healthiest populations in the world). Those who register receive a free pedometer and are asked to report their total steps to the office each week. The use of fitness devices to promote physical activity in seniors is an exciting area that we look forward to seeing develop further!
Have you used any of the wearable fitness trackers? What was/is your experience?