Are Health and Fitness Devices for You? What to Consider Before You Buy

Posted by Valerie Ulene on

      1. Device Accuracy
      2. The Current State of Your Health
      3. Response to Data
      4. A Plan for the Data
      5. Making The Decision

As we age, paying attention to our overall health can help us remain independent and maintain quality of life.  But, saying we’ll pay attention to our health and actually doing it are two very different things. 

Adopting healthy behaviors is difficult. Fortunately, there are now a variety of wearable devices, often referred to as health and fitness devices, that can help keep us on the “right” path. These innovative devices which include the Oura Ring, the Apple Watch, and the Fitbit can measure everything from our heart rate and body temperature to the number of steps we take and the quantity (and quality) of sleep we get. They provide access to useful information which shows us that the choices we make have consequences—consequences that are measurable and actionable.


If we put this data to work for us, wearable fitness devices can influence our decision-making around things like exercise, diet, and sleep and likely help improve our overall health. Physical activity serves as a perfect example of this: According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, wearable devices have the potential to increase people’s levels of physical activity. And, as we age, remaining physically active not only helps us live longer, it prevents pain and disability and allows us to maintain our independence and quality of life.

Not surprisingly, the wearable device industry is large and growing quickly. According to Statista, the estimated global spend on these devices in 2022 is over $80 billion. Clearly, the world sees their value.

But, if you’re considering buying a wearable fitness device, buying one that best suits your needs – and budget – can be challenging. Here are some things to consider.


The Current State of Your Health

Before buying a device it’s a good idea to evaluate your current state of health and assess where improvements could be made, and what information could be valuable to you.

Talking with your healthcare provider can help in this assessment.  

Doctors can point out health concerns and make specific recommendations. They may suggest you walk more in which case tracking steps could help, or they might encourage you to get more rest in which case a device that provides comprehensive feedback on sleep might be useful. If your doctor is worried that you’re at high risk of falling, they may recommend that you consider a wearable device that can detect a fall and send alerts to emergency contacts and services.

If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, your healthcare provider may suggest tracking your vital signs over a period of time and then use that data to inform your treatment plan. Some devices actually link to an app that create comprehensive reports that your heathcare provider can review remotely.

Even if you’re in optimal health, fitness devices can often be valuable. Whether you’re training for a race or simply starting a new workout routine, a wearable device can monitor you’re progress and help determine if you’re under- or overtraining. 

Response to Data

Most of us know who we are at this point in our lives. We understand what motivates us—what makes us want to give up and what makes us want to forge on. We also know how much we like to push ourselves—if we tend to take things to extremes or are more inclined to take things easy.

Some people set a goal to reach 10,000 steps a day and, if they find it’s difficult to get there, may feel badly or quit trying entirely. Others struggling to reach a goal, take an entirely different tack. They may reassess and say, “Okay, my goal was unrealistic. What if I set it at 5,000 steps and make it a point to reach that instead?”

People who are competitive may respond to the way some wearable devices gamify activities like exercise. Some wearables allow you to connect with friends (or even strangers) to compete in different ways. Others keep track of certain metrics like the number of workouts you’ve completed in a week and award virtual badges or high-fives when you hit a certain mark.

Unfortunately, some people take data from wearable devices to an unhealthy extreme, getting so caught up in reaching a goal that they take unnecessary risks. They may for example ignore an injury in order to keep walking to meet a step goal or skip a meal in order to keep their calorie intake and expenditure in perfect balance.

A Plan for the Data

Fitness devices are most helpful when the individuals wearing them know what they’re going to do with the data that they provide. Without a concrete plan, it’s simply hard to translate information into healthy action.

Take sleep for example. If your device sends you data that says your sleep quality is poor, you need to start by determining what the underlying problem might be. Are you going to bed too late because you’re up binging your favorite new show? Scrolling through social media right up until you try and close your eyes? Pouring yourself one too many cocktails after dinner?

Identifying the problem however is just the first step. The next step requires that you implement changes to correct it. The solution will obviously depend on the source of the problem. In the examples above, it may mean limiting yourself to one television episode, locking your social media account after 9 p.m., or limiting the number of drinks you consume.

Without a plan, and the intention to adhere to it, much of the information wearable devices provide is nothing more than numbers.

Making the Decision

As the fitness device market continues to grow and technology advances, it’s safe to assume that the accuracy of these devices will improve and that more studies will be done evaluating their impact on health and wellness. For now, however, there is a lot that’s unknown and the onus is on you, the user, to decide if wearing one will be useful. 

A device might be a great addition to your healthy aging plan if the data motivates you and encourages positive changes. But, on the other hand, if you’re already feeling a sense of information overload, forgoing a device might be the way to go. After all, most of us really don’t need a watch or ring to tell us if we got a good night’s sleep, ate too many sweets, or sat on the couch too long.

 

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