If you’re into fitness, if you have a few pounds to lose or you’re just trying to live a bit healthier, you might already be using a fitness tracker. But whether you own the latest, snazzy wearable gadget or use a free app on your smartphone, you’re probably only realizing a fraction of the benefits it has to offer.
Here are five ways you can unlock the power of that little device and achieve real health benefits:
1. Turn on Your Inactivity Alert. Virtually all wearables, and many apps, have this feature. An inactivity alert is a bell or a buzz that tells you when you’ve been sitting for 15, 20, 30 minutes; you choose the amount of time. When the alert goes off, you take a moment to stand and move around a bit. Then you sit back down and go on with whatever you were doing.
While interrupting yourself every quarter hour might seem like a hassle at first, it’s an irritation worth getting used to. A vast amount of research has shown that prolonged sitting is not only associated with higher rates of metabolic disorders and heart disease, it’s bad for your brain, too. What’s more, a growing body of research has found that simply standing up isn’t enough to counter the ill effects of sitting, so you’ve got to move a little. Luckily, even as little as one minute of walking or light exercise, or just 100 steps, can counter the ill effects of sitting.
2. Get Social for Accountability. One of the best features of wearable devices and apps is the ability to opt in to social sharing. By creating a user profile and allowing your data to be compared with others, you can turn healthy habits into a game. Beyond just counting steps, social sharing challenges you daily to land within the top 50%, 25% or 10% of users across a variety of activity goals.
Whether you’re “competing” against people you know, the larger connected community or just yourself, this is a great motivator to keep up with your new healthy habits. If you have privacy concerns, be sure to read the fine print when you set up your account. That way, you’ll know exactly what data you’re sharing and with whom.
3. Connect with Your Health Care Team. While this technology platform is still in its infancy, health-tech startups are working hard to get the data from health and fitness devices into your doctor’s hands without an in-person visit. Already a small handful of higher-end and specialty devices can track health metrics like blood pressure, cardiac function and body weight, while most basic wearables collect data that is more mundane but still useful, such as pulse, active time and sleep patterns.
Very soon, biometrics like heart rate, skin temperature, stress patterns and hydration levels could help to raise red flags and possibly diagnose illnesses, like the flu, in their early stages. If your doctor has recommended weight loss or an increase in physical activity as part of your care plan, ask him or her whether sharing data from your activity tracker might be useful.
4. Diligently Track Water Consumption. Dehydration can be a serious health risk for adults over 50. Fatigue and headaches are common symptoms of mild dehydration, which can progress to fever, dizziness and confusion. Even worse, dehydration can adversely affect your body’s ability to metabolize and modulate many medications. Over the long term, chronic dehydration may be associated with a higher risk for stroke (and worse recovery outcomes), chronic kidney disease, dementia and a host of other diseases.
Compounding this issue, as you age, your sense of thirst can become blunted, causing you to go longer without drinking water than you should. Luckily, activity trackers make staying hydrated as easy as tapping a button. Most wearables and apps have this quick and easy feature: simply add a number for every eight ounces of water (not coffee, tea or soda) you drink. For optimal hydration, aim for between two and three liters of water per day, or eight to 15 eight-ounce glasses.
5. Clean Up Your Diet. Although diet tracking isn’t a direct feature on basic wearable devices yet, the tech sector is working hard to change that. For now, nearly all wearables have a nutrition tracking feature on their paired apps and higher-end smart watches are also compatible with dozens of stellar third-party nutrition apps.
These powerful little programs allow you to customize exactly what you track — from servings of fruits and vegetables to grams of protein, carbs and fat to every single thing you eat and drink. Tracking consumption can have a significant impact on the quality of your diet and might help you lose weight, both of which can lower your risk for a host of lifestyle-related diseases.
It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities the next few years will bring as wearable health tech continues to advance. But right now, the device you own is already a powerful tool for creating healthy habits and sticking to them. You simply need to dive in and see exactly what it can do for you.
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