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Counting More Than Steps for Better Health and Performance

By Susan Hardin Rocchini, PT, DPT

Wearable technology has become ubiquitous — even my 5 year old has an activity tracker!  Deciding which device is best for you is the biggest challenge.  Our blog post from a few years ago reviewing the devices available at that time has been one of our most popular articles, and wearable technology was ranked the number one fitness trend of the 2017. (1)

The activity trackers of today are doing a whole lot more than just counting steps. While activity trackers have proven to be quite accurate in counting steps, a word of caution must be issued regarding the accuracy at which the trackers are estimating measures such as calorie burn and heart rate.

Training and Recovery

One updated activity tracker feature is the ability to monitor training load the recommend optimal rest time and recovery period, which can help prevent injury by telling you when to rest versus work out. Products like the FAM Sports CheckMyLevel, the Polar V800 and the Garmin Forerunner 630 are able to use your latest workout stats to monitor your training load and recommend the optimal rest time and recovery period. The Garmin Forerunner’s Recovery Advisor uses heart rate data to estimate your recovery immediately after a run, and gives you a countdown timer — anywhere from 6 to 96 hours — to tell you when you go out for that next run.

Reminders to Move

Those in sedentary jobs can be reminded by their activity trackers to walk around, albeit briefly, to interrupt the inactivity of sitting. Activity for even five minutes every hour has been proven to aid overall wellbeing and decrease risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as other diseases. Many of the latest fitness trackers come with reminders that you can edit to prompt you to take these breaks. Use this feature and respond to the prompts to get away from your desk for even a few minutes — your future self will thank you.

Managing the Stress of the Day

The Garmin Vivosmart 3 has a feature to monitor stress by using its heart rate sensor to deliver heart rate variability readings to generate a stress score. If stress levels are high, the device can guide the user in breathing exercises to help achieve a calmer state.

Injury Recovery

I find activity trackers are very useful clinically for progressing activity level.  They provide you with information to safely progress and minimize risk of an overuse injury.  I recommend increasing step count by no more than 10% per day. When generally inactive people purchase an activity tracker, they may become overzealous in trying to reach the golden 10,000 steps per day that they have read about. In reality, each person should progress activity in a stepwise fashion to prevent an unwanted injury. Wear your new trackers for a couple of days to establish your baseline activity level, and then increase by no more than 10% per day. For example if someone establishes that their baseline is 2400 steps per day, then I would advise that they not increase their steps beyond 240 additional steps per day for 1 week period. Week by week, they can progress by 10% so that a goal is gradually and safely reached.

Multi-Sport Functionality

While beyond the scope of this blog post, be aware that while all activity trackers are relatively precise at counting steps, some are better than others in measuring specific activities, such as biking or swimming. If you are interested in tracking energy expenditure and other data, research which device on the market will best serve your individual needs and has the best reviews for accuracy. Additionally, if you are often pushing a stroller, an activity that may affect your step count, you will need to purchase a tracker that can be used during this activity, which often requires a piece to be worn on your shoe versus only on your wrist.

The professionals at PhysioPartners are available for any questions related to activity, injury, and helping you achieve your health and fitness goals.

Susan Hardin Rocchini, PT, DPT, is a Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Manual Therapy Certified.

 

Reference

(1) Thompson, W.  Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2017.  ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal. November/December 2016 – Volume 20 – Issue 6 – p 8–17

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