Keeping track of your fitness

According to a news story last week, the British Army has issued overweight soldiers with Fitbits to help them lose weight and get themselves fighting fit. My first question was – why are serving soldiers failing routine fitness tests and my second, will a fitness tracker really help them? As I’m not in a position to tackle the first question I thought I’d explore the second.

Worldwide sales of fitness trackers have doubled this year and an estimated 100 million people will be using health and fitness wearables by 2018. In the US, corporate sales are booming as employers try to boost the health of their workforce. Over here, even the NHS has mooted the possibility of prescribing fitness trackers as a means of tackling increasing obesity rates but do they actually work?

Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike + Fuel band are the big names in the sector, manufacturing a range of models that do everything from monitoring your activity levels and the number of steps you take to checking your heart rate and providing GPS tracking for your run.

The accompanying software interprets and reports the data gathered by the tracker, providing the user with an overview of their health and fitness on their smartphone, tablet or computer. There are also a number of compatible apps that can provide additional tracking or motivation.

But are they any good?

A BBC programme broadcast earlier this year found that all of the tested devices were inaccurate but I think that’s missing the point. Serious athletes such as cyclists and runners will probably be better off investing their money in specialist devices but for those who are curious about their daily activity levels and are looking for a bit of extra motivation, fitness trackers can be a great tool.

I have a Fitbit Surge which includes both heart rate monitoring and a running GPS function. To be honest I only wear it when I’m working with clients or working out which means I don’t get information about my activity throughout the whole day but I’m not particularly interested in that. I like to have a rough idea of my heart rate when I’m exercising and my Fitbit is certainly more comfortable to wear than my chest strap heart rate monitor. I also find it useful for estimating the number of calories I’m burning when working out or how far I’ve gone on the rare occasions when I go for a run.

One of my clients, who recently returned from holiday, told me hers had encouraged her to walk more because she was keen to keep meeting her daily step target.

So if you’re looking to improve your fitness or lose weight, you can do a lot worse than buy a fitness tracker. They can be great motivators, helping you to set goals, track your activity and monitor your progress.

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