If you have leapt onto the health/fitness tracking bandwagon with your own Fitbit, Microsoft Band, Galaxy Gear Fit, Jawbone, Garmin or even Apple Watch, then you’re likely currently getting kick out of being able to measure your activity throughout the day. Just learning how many steps you take in a typical day – and how many calories that’s likely to burn (or not burn) – can be eye opening.
But depending on the type of fitness tracker you have, there are many more things you can do than that. Using a fitness tracker, it’s actually possible to monitor a lot more than just your steps and this can in turn allow you to start running your own experiments, setting targets and generally improving your health and activity levels in a smart and constructive way.
To help you start getting more from your device then and before the novelty starts to wear off, here are some of the more powerful uses you can get from them…
Steps – Setting Goals
When you first get your device, it probably came with a set goal for your number of steps in a day. Usually this is somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 recommended steps a day, with the latter being the official line taken by most health institutions.
Going after this daily goal can be somewhat obtuse a goal however and a hard one to meet. Instead, a better strategy is to focus on your weekly or monthly averages. Often this is what is really letting you down – a quiet weekend in for instance can often be enough to completely skew your average for the week and this can take quite a toll on your total. How about going for a walk?
Identifying the Best Calorie Burns
Another useful thing you can do once you have your step counter, is to look at when you are taking the most steps. It may actually surprise you to learn just how many steps you take and calories you burn when you head out to get milk for instance. And a day’s shopping is actually excellent from a calorie burning perspective!
Theoretically, devices like the Jawbone UP have the ability to wake us gently in such a way that we aren’t groggy and we avoid ‘sleep inertia’. This works by monitoring our activity levels during the night and waking us at a point before the alarm when we start to stir. When this works, it means you’ll be waking out of a light sleep rather than a deep sleep and the result is that you feel much brighter and more energetic right away.
The Effect of Alcohol
If you have a device such as the Fitbit Charge or the Microsoft Band, then you’ll be able to monitor your heart rate 24/7. This can be a very useful tool – even where the devices might lack a bit in terms of accuracy – as it lets you see how different events affect you.
One thing you might find interesting is to keep an eye on your heart rate when you consume alcohol. This can be enough to put your heart rate up 10-20bpm as your body tries to get rid of it.
You can also see how this impacts on your sleep. Even devices like the older Fitbits and Jawbone devices can track how deeply you’re sleeping and you might have a bit of a surprise when you see how much less ‘deep sleep’ you get after just a few glasses of beer. You might end up re-thinking that second pint!
You can also use your sleep monitors to help you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. How? By running small experiments on yourself with n = 1. This means for instance, trying a spoon of honey before bed (a rumored remedy that is said to help sleep) and then seeing if that has a positive effect on your sleep quality. Or why not try having a hot shower before bed and see if that works instead?
For constant-heart rate monitors only, you can also track your stress levels throughout the day. Usually these devices show some kind of average BPM over a certain duration of time but if you have a very nerve-wracking event that occurs over a few hours – such as an interview or first date – you can actually see your heart rate spike. Likewise, while relaxing in the garden reading, you can often see it dip.
This can be rather interesting and fun to look back on subsequently as you try to match up what happened during the day with the peaks and troughs in your BPM.
While there is some debate as to the value of getting the right ‘source’ of calories in your diet, it is pretty universally agreed that eating fewer calories than you burn off is a very straightforward and effective way to lose weight and get into shape.
With a fitness tracker then, you can start monitoring roughly how many calories you burn on a regular basis and then use this information to set the target for your diet.
Again, this is one for those with heart rate monitoring built in. Zone training essentially means training at certain levels in order to encourage fat burning. One example is to find your ‘lactate threshold heart rate’ for instance, which is the point at which your breathing because rapid and uneven. Training with your heart rate consistently above this rate (zone 5+) is what results in fat burning. Going at over 106% (zone 5c) is considered anaerobic training and is perfect for high intensity interval training – as with tabata for instance.
In short, there are plenty of great things you can do with a fitness tracker and especially one of the more advanced options. At the very least they can be used to shed some light on your daily activities and the impact they have on your body, as well as helping to motivate you a little during walks and runs. If you put in some time and thought though, they can be much more than that and can become advanced training partners and lifestyle coaches.