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Ask the doctor: Are self-tracking devices effective?

Q. It seems like more and more people are wearing various devices that measure how active they are.
Is this really valuable, or is it just a fad?

A. Being physically active surely is valuable. In fact, there is probably nothing more valuable that we
can do to protect our health. In recent years, small electronic devices to monitor our movement have appeared. Some measure how many steps we take a day (pedometers). Others measure how much we move (accelerometers). Some estimate how many calories we’ve burned, based on the amount we move.

When I first heard about these devices, I thought they were silly. After all, I know how active I should be and how active I am. But I’ve been impressed by how many of my patients, and my friends, are using them. One friend told me that having an objective measurement of how physically active he is “keeps me honest” and helps motivate him.

It actually is not easy knowing how active you are. It’s easy enough to estimate how many hours a week you’ve done moderate or vigorous exercise—like jogging. But most of our physical activity is not what we think of as “exercise.” It’s walking from where you park the car to where you work, walking around your home or office, climbing the stairs (or not), even rocking in a rocking chair. We burn a lot of calories through such activities.

The American Heart Association says we should be walking about 10,000 steps a day. Most of us walk half that. Movement monitors help us recognize days when we maybe need to push a little harder: walk around the neighborhood for 20 minutes, for example. (Walking a mile, on level ground, takes about 2,000 steps and about 20 minutes.)

So it’s reasonable for you to consider using one of these devices. It might help motivate you to be more active.

—Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief
Harvard Health Letter

Posted by: Dr.Health

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