Technology and Wellbeing – My Wellbeing’s Running Away With Itself – Activity Trackers

In the first post of this series, we had a brief look at how technology and our wellbeing go hand in hand. Now, in the first of our deep dives, we’re looking specifically at how the boom of activity trackers and online health analysis can positively impact our wellbeing. But first of all…

Activity Tracking What Now?

Rather than me tell you what one is, here is a quote taken from the source of all facts on the internet, Wikipedia:

“An activity tracker, also known as a fitness tracker, is a device or application for monitoring and tracking fitness-related metrics such as distance walked or run, calorie consumption, and in some cases heartbeat and quality of sleep”.

Having all of this information at our disposal is powerful. It essentially hands back certain aspects of our health to ourselves. The technology is continuing to evolve too. No longer are activity trackers labelled “fitness bands”, they are so much more than that, monitoring our sleep, resting heart rate, and more. We can make sure we’re hitting those step counts, sleeping for an adequate time each night and finding out what our resting heart rate is; a key indicator of our overall health. Let’s take a look at some of those features in depth, and how they impact your wellbeing.

Walking 500 Miles

The step count is probably the most obvious feature of an activity tracker and does exactly what it says on the tin. For every step you take, every move you make, it will be watching you… Sorry, couldn’t resist. Every step will add a one to your step total throughout the day. We’re advised to take 10,000 steps per day with a FitBit. I honestly couldn’t find anywhere on the internet that agreed on this, nor any other number for that matter… I average around 12,000 steps per day.

I find the key to a higher step count is getting out at lunchtime for a stroll around the block. Stretch the legs, get some fresh air. Not only is that good for the step count, but stepping away from your computer or office for a break is great for our wellbeing, and helps prepare us for the rest of the day.

Beating Hearts Baby

(A point for anyone who can tell me the artist of that song without Googling it). Heart rate monitors are almost common place with activity trackers now. Even our phones have heart rate monitors built in. It’s a great way to give you a fairly accurate measure of your resting heart rate, or of the various workout “zones”. Your resting heart rate is a great indiction of how healthy your heart is. The NHS lists that a good resting heart rate is anywhere between 60 – 100 beat per minute. But how is this any good for your wellbeing?

Understanding the stress that we put on our heart is an incredibly important piece of information for us. We see can what situations allow us to feel calm and relaxed, while also being able to analyse the day for scenarios where we have felt agitated and stressed. Harvard Health School mention that simply introducing the tools to measure our heart rate is enough to encourage change. Change to a more active lifestyle perhaps, or simply a greater awareness of causes for unneeded stress.

20180530_125422_2

The Air That I Breathe

Some activity trackers now come with a breathe feature, which is essentially a function trying to promote taking 2 or 5 minutes out of your day, to focus on you and only you whilst completing a breathing exercise. My FitBit Charge HR2 achieves this by monitoring my breaths in and out, asking me to breath in when the circle on my FitBit expands, while breathing out when the circle collapses to the centre of the screen. If you do it right, you’re rewarded with stars appearing on the screen. Well done you! But how does this help your wellbeing?

Glad you asked. An NHS blog post lists a number of incredibly powerful and useful breathing techniques. What they also mention, is the point to those techniques. Yoga-style breathing techniques help us to focus our mind on breathing, taking us away from any issues or problems which may be causing us stress. The breathing techniques calm the body and mind by reducing our heart rate. I recently did this myself while waiting for a doctors appointment and it absolutely worked. It gets a thumbs up from me!

Hey Mr Sandman

You might be getting tired of all the features I’m listing here (see what I did there…), but sleep analysis is probably one of my favourite aspects of the activity trackers. I won’t go into too much detail about sleep, you can read more about that here (link to sleep post), but essentially getting enough quality sleep is key to your wellbeing.

The sleep tracking monitors how much light, deep and REM sleep we get each night. The more time we spend in and out of those states has an impact on our mental state. Simply having this information available to us, allowing us to make informed decisions on when to go to bed or when to sleep in till can impact our wellbeing. I’ve certainly found myself going to sleep earlier and at a regular time, just so I can reach the target of seven hours sleep. This enforces the point Harvard Health School made; simply giving me the tools to monitor my sleep, has enabled me to make active changes to my life and in turn, improve my wellbeing.

The Bottom Line

Activity trackers are a wonderful thing. They provide insight into our own health and wellbeing, putting us, the wearer, in control of our own health. Providing us with this information in easy and digestible apps, is often enough to encourage a change in our lifestyle, most often for the better. I personally find the FitBit HR 2 has changed my life in places. I’m taking the stairs at work rather than taking the lift / elevator, walking at lunchtime, analysing my nights sleep over breakfast and performing breathing exercises during stressful situations. Activity trackers have come a long way since the dawn of pedometers.

Technology has enabled us to enhance the activity tracker in such a way, that they have positive impacts on our lives, both physically and mentally.

Technology and wellbeing, almost literally in this case, working hand in hand.

A Note From Matt

Hopefully you enjoyed the second post in our “Technology and Wellbeing” series. While writing this I certainly realised just how powerful a tool the activity tracker can be. But what about you? Do you use an activity tracker? Do you have any recommendations? Have you found them to help you with your wellbeing? Let me know in the comments below, and hopefully I’ll see you down there.

Be well,

Matt