I get up every day around 3:45 am. I take a shower, get dressed, and leave for work. My commute is about 40 minutes and that's when it starts. The sitting.
After sitting in my car for 40 minutes, I get to work and sit at a desk as I prepare for the Jeff and Jenn Morning Show. When our show starts at 6 a.m., I find myself behind a microphone, in front of a computer…and still sitting. The funny thing is, I never realized how much I was sitting until someone gave me a Fitbit for Christmas one year.
I was looking to get more active and the Fitbit was a new-to-me technology to count steps and track fitness. After wearing the Fitbit for a few days, I found myself wanting to walk more and more. I always tried to meet the 10,000 step goal set for the day. It made me more active and also helped me realize how much I sit at work. Sometimes I would go two hours without even standing up. How did I know this? Because my Fitbit would remind me of long stretches when I hadn't moved.
It was eye-opening to me that I could go that long without even standing. I never would have known this without my fitness tracker. There are so many fitness trackers on the market these days. Which one is the best one, and what really are the benefits of wearing one? I got the facts from preventive cardiologist Joel Forman, MD, The Christ Hospital Physicians Heart & Vascular.
What are the benefits of wearing a fitness tracker? Do they actually help people who are looking to become more physically fit?
Dr. Forman: I think the biggest benefit to wearing a fitness tracker is that it reminds the wearer of the importance of movement. In our society, the general lack of activity contributes to many diseases…not just heart disease. By taking more steps, sitting less, and doing actual exercise, people can feel better and live longer in a very cost effective way.
What things do they track and what's most important to pay attention to?
Dr. Forman: The devices vary in what they track. Most at least monitor steps, some also recognize standing, some track exercise, and heart rate. Smart devices add functionality including integrating with mobile devices and even ECG.
What do the different levels of cardio-fitness mean? Are they usually accurate?
Dr. Forman: I think what you're referring to is the intensity of workload. That is typically measured by heart rate zones, predicted by age. While that is an imperfect estimate, it is true that working harder will increase one's heart rate. Working harder improves fitness, which is a huge predictor of many outcomes. My advice to most patients is to focus on how they feel. They should be maintaining or improving their fitness (ability to do work), but it should not be uncomfortable. That is more important to older, more sedentary patients and those with more significant disease.
Is there one fitness tracker that is better than the others?
Dr. Forman: The basics of any device are beneficial. I have not reviewed all devices, but to my knowledge the Apple Watch has the most features. There was even a very large clinical trial using it to pick up atrial fibrillation. The problem is that, in general, the population at risk for atrial fibrillation (older, more comorbidities or related health issues) is less likely to have the watch than the population at low risk. Fitbit makes some very good small devices as well that concentrate on more fundamentals.
My Apple Watch has an ECG option when it comes to tracking heart rates. What is that, and how often should I be checking it?
Dr. Forman: The ECG on the Apple Watch mimics one lead in a standard 12-lead ECG. It is useful in looking at heart rhythm, but very insensitive for other things ECGs are used for, like detecting a heart attack. My advice on using it would be to check it if heart rate is inappropriately elevated, for example, accelerated above baseline at rest, or for symptoms like palpitations or shortness of breath. It is a tool, but it should NOT be a substitute for medical care. For patients with atrial fibrillation, our priority is preventing stroke, but in some cases they may want to check more often, particularly if the rhythm historically didn't show show symptoms.
Should I be worried about any negative effects from wearing a fitness track all day, every day?
Dr. Forman: I would say that the two biggest negative effects are distraction and anxiety. More important than data is simply making the effort to sit less, move more, and improve fitness. Though devices can encourage that, they are not necessary to do so. The devices are good, but also have some error in them. We vary in our heart rates, and almost everyone has extra beats. Heart rates slow when we sleep and rest, accelerate when we are anxious, in pain and move. Not understanding that can lead to unnecessary concern regarding illness, and paradoxically, even less activity.|
There you have it! If you're looking to add more movement to your life, consider getting a fitness tracker. There really are so many to choose from with a wide variety of prices. I'm sure you can find one that is perfect for you. You can also look into fitness apps that count your steps.
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