To buy or not to buy: Fitness trackers
Okay—I have to fess up. I am breaking my own rules about New Years resolutions. I realized this fall, despite all of my good intentions and good health habits, my weight’s been creeping up. Sure, I have many good excuses—two months in glorious Spain, my daughter’s wedding, and big changes at work. But the simple fact—I want to stem this tide before the big flood comes!
My good buddy, Tracy Spencer M.D., retired long time Everett internist, has been goading me to buy a Fitbit—a bracelet which tracks daily steps (calories, heart rate, and sleep too). Fitbit users can compete with friends to win a weekly competition—total number of steps. It comes complete with an app that syncs with your smart phone, tablet, or computer.
While I am not a big one for high tech toys, I decided to give it a go. A wide range of health studies suggest that adults benefit from taking 10,000 steps per day---weight loss, weight maintenance, reduced blood pressure, and better glycemic control if you do have diabetes.
Ten thousand steps is a lot of hoofing. It’s about an hour and twenty minutes of walking or a little shy of five miles. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) which averages in at about 7000-8000 steps per day. Most Americans gets about 5000 steps per day.
The weighty concept (pun intended) behind fitness trackers is not arriving at 10K steps. For many adults, that’s too lofty a goal. It’s that measuring something, whatever it is, forces you to pay attention to what you are actually doing, rather than what you think or hope you are doing. Measuring your weight forces you to acknowledge whether you or gaining or losing. Measuring calories, via food diaries (e.g. www.myfitnesspal.com) keeps you honest (let see, how many calories is in a handful of almonds? Depends on how big your hand is!)
I’ve been taking all three measurements on a daily basis since the beginning of December—weight, steps, and calories. I’m a master at deluding myself when it comes to eating and weight. Gee, I’m sure that my pants must have shrunk in the dryer. It couldn’t be because I’ve been hitting the cherry cheesecake!
Studies show that when adults measure weight and track food consumption daily, they are better able to shed weight—and keep it off. It’s important to remember that your weight can fluctuate widely. But if it’s up, adults can be more thoughtful about what they eat. And when it’s down, celebrate with a congratulatory pat on your back. But, be realistic. Be satisfied if you can manage to track your activity, food intake, and weight 4-5 times a week. That will do the trick.
- When it comes to stepping out more, be realistic. If you are game, and want to get a fitness tracker (look online, there are many different kinds at a wide range of prices), start by simply becoming aware of your activity level. Think about increasing it slowly, by 10% per week. Find ways of increasing your activity level—walk when you could drive or park in the back of the parking lot at Costco. Take the stairs when you could take the elevator. Be on the lookout for opportunities to walk more. But be careful, it’s easy for some people to go overboard on this tracking business. Don’t feel guilty if you take a day off to watch the Seahawks!
- Take the long view. I am thinking of this enterprise as a yearlong effort to change my behavior.
This week I’ve out stepped my friend Tracy! Woo hoo! Of course, he is down with a cold, but who cares!