Activity trackers – otherwise known as fitness trackers – can do some amazing things.
They monitor your movements, count the number of steps you take and track how many calories you’re burning. However, they can’t read your mind and don’t know everything about you.
These five tips will help you get the most out of your favourite activity tracker.
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1. Enter all your personal information
If you want your activity tracker to give you the most accurate information, you need to tell it a little bit about yourself before you start using it.
Your age, sex, height and weight, for example, will enable the tracker to give you more accurate estimates of the number of steps you take, how far you’ve travelled and how many calories you’ve burned.
Read about other health and fitness apps
2. Check which wrist you’re wearing it on
Why does it matter which wrist you’re wearing your activity tracker on?
If you’re right-handed, your right arm is your dominant arm and will move more than your left – and vice versa. Activity trackers are calibrated to take this into account. If your activity tracker gives you the option, tell it if you’re wearing it on your dominant wrist.
Our guide to the best fitness trackers
If it doesn’t, wear it on your non-dominant wrist for more accurate monitoring.
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3. Don’t push yourself too hard
Your activity tracker may tell you 10,000 steps per day is a reasonable goal. And it may be reasonable for someone younger than you or someone not recovering from an injury, but is it reasonable for you?
Monitor your activity for a few days first. See how many steps you take and then set a reasonable goal.
If you walk 5000 steps, set a goal of 7000 and when you meet your goal, give yourself a small reward.
Read about our six-week plan for walking
4. Adjust your activity tracker
Two people of the same sex and height may have different strides. Over the course of a day, small differences in the length of stride can add up to a big difference in the distance walked. Take the time to measure your stride and calibrate your tracker and you will get a more accurate distance reading.
For best results, measure the distance you cover in 20 paces and divide the distance by 20. If you use your tracker for jogging or running, adjust it for those activities, too.
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5. Don’t forget to turn off sleep mode
Turning on sleep mode is usually easier to remember than turning it off when you wake up. Make it a habit to turn off sleep mode every morning for more accurate feedback of your daily activities.
As handy as high-tech gadgets like activity trackers are, psychologists warn against becoming fanatical about them.
While monitoring activities is a great way to motivate yourself to get into healthier habits, you don’t want to go overboard and monitor everything you do.
Moderation in all things is the key to a balanced, happy and healthy lifestyle.
Ask Dr Mark Porter – will a fitness monitor will help my husband exercise?
Q I’ve would like to buy my husband an exercise monitor to encourage him to do more. Since retiring he has become quite sedentary. Any suggestions?
A It is certainly worth a try, but he will need willpower too. A study published in The Lancet in 2016 looked at the impact of wearing a Fitbit on 800 volunteers. Those given a monitor were more active and more likely to achieve the goal of 70,000 steps or more a week. However one group were incentivised for hitting this target ($22 a week or a donation to charity) and once these payments stopped, their activity tailed off. Also the researchers could find no significant difference in health parameters – such as weight loss or blood pressure – between those who used a Fitbit and those in a control group who didn’t.
Bottom line? Activity monitors are a good way to motivate someone who is already motivated, but you need to keep using them. Too many end up in a drawer.
As for recommending one, I don’t have strong views. Fitbit and Garmin are market leaders and produce a wide range. I would stick with the cheapest ones that offer GPS tracking and heart-rate monitoring, as they cover all eventualities. Buying a very expensive one won’t make your husband exercise more. But the most basic step-monitors (basically a pedometer) don’t make good presents either.
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