Can Activity Trackers Really Make Us Healthier?

Man checking his activity tracker

Activity trackers have been around for so long now it’s hard to remember what wearable tech was like before them. These popular devices help us to log steps, runs and workouts from swimming to weights to yoga and more. But can fitness trackers actually help us to improve our fitness and health levels? 

Research has found that using an activity tracker can actually increase healthy behaviours, such as becoming and staying more active. Vitality’s Behaviour Change Study found that participants with an Apple watch were 34% more active, which is the equivalent of an extra 4.8 days’ physical activity a month. At Vitality, we have offered the Apple Watch to our members to help them track their activity, and to keep on encouraging members to get and stay active.

And it’s not just physical fitness that can be improved on – fitness trackers now also monitor heart rates, remind us to practice mindfulness and even to take breaks from our desks.

Fitness and movement

Being able to log those sweaty sessions can serve as the perfect reminder that you got active. It doesn’t matter if you log a quick 10 minute HIIT workout or a 45 minute walk, any movement is good for your physical and mental health.  

  • Track your steps: How did we even track steps before we had devices?! Daily steps are one of the most effective ways to raise your heart rate, add in some movement to the day and get rewarded (one small step for man, one giant reward from Vitality).
  • Log your workouts: Fitness trackers are now able to record a variety of different workouts from swimming to dancing to cricket and even sailing. Just being able to log a workout and track how active you’ve been over a week can really keep that motivation running (or cycling) high.
  • Visualise your effort: We all go around comparing ourselves to others, wondering why we can’t do 30 consecutive burpees with 5kg in each hand, but exercise is personal. With a fitness tracker you can see  what you’re really achieving. With this aesthetic aid you might just find it gives you even more motivation to move your body every day.

Motivation and productivity

Although their name alludes to only being useful for fitness, if you set them up in an appropriate way they can provide a motivation boost and help you at work. Personalised goal setting and organisation tools can help to keep a stable routine throughout each day.

  • Setting goals: Different trackers allow you to set certain goals that you would like to hit every day – from exercise minutes to meditation minutes. You can adjust these specific goals to ones that work for you and your current situation – for example you could aim for 30 minutes of activity each day, it doesn’t have to be a high number unless you want it to be. 
  • Reminders and updates: Staying organised can help us to complete daily tasks, whether for work or personal reasons, and give a sense of accomplishment. By syncing your calendar to your device you can get reminders of what your next focus is, even if that is a reminder to take a lunch break each day and get some fresh air.  

Health and wellbeing 

Fitness tracker devices make it easier to monitor certain aspects of your health, which is beneficial for those with health conditions and those without. From heart rates to mindfulness, you can track how your general wellbeing is doing. 

  • Monitor your heart rate: Knowing your heart rate means you can monitor whether it raises too high or too low when at rest. The British Heart Foundation suggests an ideal resting heart rate sits between 50bpm to 70bpm. A high resting heart rate can mean your heart is working too hard and can be linked to heart disease, however a very low resting heart rate can indicate an underlying health condition. High heart rates could also indicate bouts of anxiety and stress. Certain watches, like Apple devices, can provide alerts when your heart rate dips too low. If you notice any irregularities or concerns with your heart rate, it is advised you should speak to your GP immediately. 
  • Take a stand: With an Apple Watch, you can set reminders to stand each hour. If you work at a desk for long periods of time it’s important to regularly stand for your physical health, and it also provides a moment to break away from your screen. 
  • Mindfulness reminders: Practicing mindfulness even a little every day is a great way to look after your mental health. You can sync apps such as Headspace to your tracker device which remind you to take a calm moment out of your day for mindfulness. Even just five minutes of breathing exercises can help to relax and reset the mind. 

How an Apple Watch helped with heart rate monitoring

In March 2017, James, a 37-year-old VitalityHealth member and entrepreneur living in London, ordered a Series 3 Apple Watch through the Vitality Programme, which he used to track his health and overall fitness. In June that year, he suddenly fainted, hit his head and after going to the doctors and his local hospital, found out that he suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a life threatening heart condition. Since then, the Apple Watch has come into its own, allowing James to monitor his heart’s rhythm and track trends in his heart beat over time. 

In September, James received an alert from his watch that his heart rhythm had changed and gone into atrial fibrillation, which causes the heart to beat abnormally fast. James sought help from his GP, and was prescribed a new medication. Soon after the medication change, his watch alerted him to an unexpected drop in his heart rate, which in turn led to James seeking further medical help and James believes prevented him from being hospitalised. James is now on a new medication and is able to walk around his home without becoming short of breath. He has recently upgraded to the Apple Watch 6 Series with new functionality of the electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen level monitoring. James says the Apple Watch gives him peace of mind by allowing him to monitor his heart rate, and as an added bonus has encouraged him to get more active through walking, yoga and swimming. 

 

 

 

Want to understand more about your physical health and where you could make improvements? By finding out what’s the real age of your health, you can take steps towards getting healthier and monitoring your healthy habits.

As a VitalityHealth or VitalityLife member, you could get Apple Watch for less when you get active (upfront payment applicable). Available with eligible health insurance and life insurance plans. Minimum monthly premiums and terms and conditions apply. Log in to Member Zone for the details. For details of other fitness trackers available with your Vitality membership visit Member Zone.