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Health App

Can Wearable Tech Really Help Me Get Fit?

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Category : Blogs

Myfitnesspal. Runtastic. Microsoft Health. Fitbit. Microsoft Band. There are loads of them: apps and wearable tech that are there to help you get fitter (or in my case, try to stop getting fatter!).

An Ecosystem Of Sensors

I’ve been sucked in by them. Being the Microsoft-lover that I am, I have gone out and bought myself a Microsoft band. I just had to have it, it’s jammed full of tech!! its got:

  • Optical HR monitor
  • 3 axis accelerometer
  • Gyrometer
  • GPS tracker
  • Ambient light sensor
  • UV sensor
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • Capacitive sensor
  • Galvanic skin response sensor
  • Microphone
  • Haptic vibration sensor

That’s 11 sensors; all in something that fits around my wrist and that I can wear all day (other than when I’m near water, but hey, no product’s perfect!). Add to that the fact that I get free access to the Microsoft Health dashboard across mobile via the app, or desktop via the interweb device, and you have a perfectly assembled ecosystem constructed to help you can get fit.

But does it really work like that? Can it be that simple?

My device can tell me some amazing things: how well I’ve slept, how many steps I’ve taken, how many calories I’ve burnt (while awake and while asleep).

Do those numbers have basis? And will monitoring those figures really help me get fit? What does all of that actually mean in reality?

If I could walk one thousand miles…

Most of us have heard about the magical power of ‘10,000’ steps. That is apparently how far you should walk each day in order to improve your health and decrease your risk of heart disease.

But there is some debate about whether or not this number really means much in reality. In fact, 10,000 steps first originated as a marketing mantra for a pedometer company in the 1960’s. “It was a business slogan” explains Tudor-locke, “like ‘Just Do It’ for Nike, but it resonated with people”.

That golden or arbitrary number (whichever side of the argument you fall) has become a point of study in the last few years and a fair few articles exist either agreeing with or aimed at debunking that myth. Some argue that there is nothing special about 10,000; you can be perfectly healthy and walk less than that. Others think that that number falls short.

The truth is – everybody’s different and so are their fitness requirements. Just because you know how many steps you’ve taken, doesn’t mean that you know you are fit.

So how else can we judge our health?

Body Mass Index – The Big Fat Scam

One thing that frustrates me with all of the analysis around health, is that a lot of it gets hung off of the back of Body Mass Index (or BMI).

BMI is a simple measure: you divide your weight (KG) by your height (metres) squared. (A simple calculator and chart can be found here). But what does this measure actually mean? We’ve all come to realize: sometimes, it doesn’t mean much.

I am a big American Football Fan (go Lions!!) and the majority of these athletes come out as obese. And yet, they can still run a 40 yard dash in five and a half seconds. They are, undoubtedly, fitter then most.

The problem, of course, with BMI is that it doesn’t measure fat or fit, it is simply a compound measure of weight and height.

But what if, like an American football star, you’ve got a lot of muscle? As we all know, muscle weighs more than fat – so the more muscular you are, the higher the BMI will be……and (by its own calculations) the less healthy you must be? That can’t be right.

More Than Just a Numbers Game

The problem is human beings can’t be simplified into a collection of numbers (we are more than a sum of our parts!). Being thin and unhealthy is a lot worse than being fat and fit.

One study undertaken by The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research found that men who were lean but unfit were at twice as likely to die as men who were overweight but fit. You might not look fat. You might be ‘healthy’, numerically speaking. But your physical condition could still put you at risk.

There are roughly 40,000 different mobile apps that aim to help us stay healthy. Some monitor calorie consumption, others count steps. Some measure BMI, or track your vital signs: your pulse, your blood pressure, or your respiratory rate. A few even analyze urine.

But, like any data analysis – contextualization is key. Apps and wearable tech can help you to monitor your progress – how far you can now run? Or track changes in your physical condition – has your blood pressure gone up? But you need to have a good understanding of your own level of fitness before you look to those applications for assistance.

Will my Microsoft band guarantee I get healthy? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to know that I could do with taking a few more steps today….

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