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Healthy Living

Gadgets, trackers & apps: Is fitness tech worth the cost?

Shop smart when purchasing a fitness tracker.

According to the latest guidelines, Americans should exercise at least 150 minutes per week; should follow a healthy eating pattern, filling up on fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains and healthy oils; and snuggle in for roughly seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

And that’s not including all the other health indicators for any number of special situations.

Being healthy sometimes can feel like a full-time job. But here’s where your smartphone—or another tech gadget—can make it easier.

“Overall, it can be helpful for people to have a prompt,” said Dr. Steven Coughlin, a researcher in the Department of Population Health Sciences at Augusta University. “Research shows that these types of technology directed toward the consumer are effective.”

Your health, at a glance

Coughlin uses the FitBit Blaze in his research studies focusing on physical fitness. “It’s hugely popular,” he says of the wearable device. “But it’s not the only manufacturer out there.”

If you’re in the market for a fitness tracker, Gadgets & Wearables suggests you consider this:

Weigh your budget against the functions you want.

“Costs are coming down, and these are more and more affordable,” said Coughlin. As manufacturers launch next-gen devices, earlier and more basic versions tend to be less expensive. So if you just want to track your activity and calories, you can certainly expect to spend less—but know that multifunctional wearables will be pricier.

Figure out what you want to track.

Many of today’s wearables can help you measure much more than steps, distance, calories and activity. Many will give you a nudge—a gentle buzz—if you’ve been sedentary too long. Some feature a GPS for a more accurate measure of distance. Others may be designed for specific activities like cycling, swimming or using an elliptical or treadmill. Sleep tracking is becoming more popular, with devices able to tell you how long you were in light, deep or REM sleep. Still others can also share heart rate, your maximal aerobic activity, body temperature, even UV exposure. Evaluate what’s important towards helping you meet your goals and don’t spend more on features you won’t use.

See if it’s easy to use.

You’ll want to think about how to set up your tracker, how to keep it charged, and whether its functions are automatic or manually driven. For example, does it sync automatically with other devices and apps? Is it battery operated, and if so, research the cost of replacements and if they’re easy to find. If you use apps such as Runkeeper or MyFitnessPal, make sure to check that the tracker you choose is compatible.

Trackers for swimming

For the pool, invest in a waterproof tracker. Note that there is a difference between waterproof and water resistant. Trackers that are labeled “water resistant” are safe for wearing in the rain, but not for swimming.

Style and substance

The most common type of activity tracker is one that you wear on your wrist. You just put it on and go. Most of these trackers will record your steps and track your calorie intake with an app.

If watches and bracelets bother you, consider a clip-on model. These measure distance, steps, and more while staying snugly clipped to your pocket, belt or clothing.

Finally, no matter how impressive the other features of the tracker seem to be, you won’t wear it if it isn’t comfortable. Also, here’s where looks are also important—if you don’t like how the device looks on you, you probably won’t use it. Pay attention to design, color and how it feels before you make your purchase.

Apps worth downloading

Meanwhile, if you already have a smartphone, you can easily turn it into a health tracker of sorts. “There are a million apps out there,” said Coughlin.

But, he adds, just be cautious of those that aren’t research tested or supported by an organization like the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association or American Cancer Society. While it may not matter as much for apps that simply help you count calories, other apps that provide health advice should be backed by a reputable source.

One app that Coughlin likes for helping people maintain a healthy diet is Lose It! “It’s very useful for helping people calorie count,” he said. The app guides users through setting a goal for a personalized daily calorie budget and weight loss plan, then makes it easy for you to add up your food and exercise every day.

Other popular apps include:

  • MyFitnessPal, a calorie counter that also includes a dieting journal and a way to compile healthy recipes
  • Calm, which offers meditation techniques to reduce stress and improve sleep
  • Period Tracker or Flo Period and Ovulation Tracker, both of which track the monthly menstrual cycle and ovulation, which can help with conception
  • Runkeeper, which uses GPS to map your runs, as well as log speed and distance

Coughlin also suggests visiting www.cdc.gov/mobile/generalconsumerapps.html for a list of apps created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed toward the public and consumers, including everything from making dining decisions to tracking your child’s milestones.

Get motivated

It can be easy to jump onto a new routine. It’s harder to stay motivated for the long haul. This is where apps and trackers with their fun gadgetry, reminders and more can help, as well as make the investment towards a health or fitness tracker worthwhile.

“We encourage people to take advantage of newer technology to help them engage in a healthier lifestyle and remain motivated, from following a nutritious diet to remaining physically active,” said Coughlin.

Stay on track

Augusta University Care Centers are right in your community with teams of skilled primary care and specialty care doctors to help you maintain your healthy lifestyle and habits. Make an appointment at one of our care centers today, visit augustahealth.org, or call 706-721-2273 (CARE).

About the author

Augusta University Health

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.

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