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Get active with trackers

activity tracker fitbit exercise active
Image: Thinkstock

Men who need a regular reminder to stay active can get a little help from these electronic friends.

Your body is wired to receive and respond to feedback. You easily identify pain, discomfort, and fatigue and are quick to make changes to correct the problem.

However, other health markers, like high blood pressure, gradual weight gain, and rising stress levels are not so easily recognized. What you need is a constant reminder to help combat these issues by staying more active. And activity trackers are the way to go.

“Activity trackers create a psychology to stay engaged in healthier behavior,” says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, vice president of Harvard-affiliated Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, which develops personal health technologies. “By monitoring your daily movements, you can gain the instant information and feedback you need to get moving and stay moving.”

Steps and active minutes

Activity trackers use an accelerometer—which measures direction and intensity of motion—to keep tabs on your movements along three axes: X (forward and backward), Y (left and right), and Z (up and down). They can track your steps and your activity (or lack thereof).

Some even come with heart rate monitors, and others can measure calories burned and sleep quality. Most synch your information to your smartphone or computer to build an ongoing record so you can track your progress.

But which of these features are the most beneficial? It depends on your personal goals and health needs, but Dr. Kvedar suggests that for the average man, tracking daily steps and recording active minutes offers the most useful information. “If you plan to use walking as your primary fitness activity, then trackers are a perfect tool,” he says. Recording daily steps is a constant reminder of what you are doing right now, and offers the immediate feedback you need to make change.

“For instance, if you set a goal of 10,000 steps a day, and don’t meet it, you are more motivated to make changes to reach that number going forward, like parking the car farther away, taking the stairs, and walking the dog more,” says Dr. Kvedar.

If you do exercise, like cardio or strength training, or participate in sports or active social events, trackers can monitor your total time spent moving. “Active minutes are a powerful indicator of your health status,” says Dr. Kvedar. “This is a more uniform measure of effort expended. How much time during the day do you really spend moving?”

Be mindful, though, that trackers only measure motion and not exertion. For example, they can record the time devoted to doing dumbbell curls, and the up-and-down movement, but not the weight. So you still have to be conscientious about putting in a full effort.

Know the limits of trackerssenior man wearing fit bit activity tracker

Keep in mind that even the best trackers are never 100% accurate. A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise tested six popular fitness and activity trackers to determine how well they measured sedentary, aerobic, and resistance activity. Fifty-six subjects were asked to complete 20 minutes of sedentary activity, such as reading a book, working at the computer, or watching television. They then did 25 minutes of their choice of aerobic activity followed by 25 minutes of resistance exercise. The researchers found that some monitors overestimated or underestimated one, two, or even all three activities. Even the most accurate performer still had a 15.3% rate of error.

Choosing your tracker

Trackers can range from around $50 to $200-plus. Often the more bells and whistles, the higher the cost. With so many options, selecting the right one can feel daunting. You can learn more about trackers and gain insight into choosing the right one to fit your needs at Wellocracy (, an online guide to personal health technology created by Partners HealthCare. But here are some basics to consider:

  • Know your goals. People new to exercise, or those just looking to move more, can do well with simple trackers that only count steps.

  • Design and comfort. Most trackers are worn as wristbands or armbands, or are made to clip to your clothing. Others let you wear a sensor that is strapped to your ankle or attached to your shoelaces. “Ask yourself which one you would find comfortable wearing for long periods, or be seen wearing in public,” says Dr. Kvedar.

  • Ease of use. Can you see the digits well? Are the buttons easy to push? Also, be mindful that most trackers are water resistant and not waterproof, so they can stand up to sweat and drizzle, but are not meant for swimming unless otherwise noted.

What’s in a number?

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day? Yes and no. Many experts dismiss the number as a one-size-fits-all marketing ploy, and research has shown sedentary people can gain benefits with fewer steps, since they take, on average, less than 5,000 daily steps. Still, 10,000 is easy to remember (it is approximately five miles) and a good target to begin with. Your ideal number may be more or less, so consult with your doctor, and then aim to gradually increase it by 500 steps each week.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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