How To Use Your Activity Tracker So You Don’t Abandon It Mid Year - CATEGORY Daily News: TITLE

My morning routine has an extra step now. Before I shower, I take off anywhere between one and six wearable devices. I hold out my arms and inspect the imprints they leave on my skin—long, angry, watch-shaped marks. When your bread and butter is reviewing fitness trackers, as I do for PCMag, I suppose you could say this is an occupational hazard.

It doesn't matter that wearables are increasingly becoming showerproof. Unless I'm testing how they hold up against water, I like to think there are at least 15 minutes in a day when my body is not quantified.

These days, Fitbits and their ilk can track almost anything—from what time you go to bed to how quickly your heart beats as you're running to your next appointment. Some, like the Garmin Vivosmart 3, claim their algorithms can measure how stressed you are. Wear one tracker for a month, and you'll have a decent chunk of data that says something about who you are.

But the same questions about wearables have persisted since the technology first debuted: Does this data actually help you in any way? Is your fitness tracker a useful tool on your path to wellness or just tech-justified navel gazing? Opinions and study results range widely, and we still have no definitive answers.

But in my first year of testing them, wearables had some unexpected effects on my life—some vaguely negative, some neutral, and a couple positive experiences that made me rethink my life. My year in wearables might not answer any of the big questions, but it might offer some insight into the future potential these gadgets contain.

The Ideal of the Quantified Self

How well do you know yourself?

I'm not talking about your identity, values, or opinion on whether a hamburger qualifies as a sandwich. I'm not even talking about your weight, height, or eye color. I mean things like this: In the last 30-day period, how many hours of sleep did you get each night, on average? If the nearest train station is two miles on foot, at your average pace, how many steps will you take to get there? When you're sitting at your desk, what's your resting heart rate?

In the last 30 days, my Fitbit Alta HR tells me, I slept an abysmal average of 5 hours and 45 minutes per night. I walk at an average pace of 3.5 miles per hour, which means it takes me about 34 minutes to walk 2 miles. For me, a 5-foot 3-inch woman, that's somewhere between 4,000 and 4,200 steps. When I sit at my desk (depending on how stressed I am about an upcoming deadline), my resting heart rate is about 80 beats per minute. It drops down to around 50 beats per minute when I sleep, for an overall daily average of 68 to 70 bpm. I'm less consistent with my steps; some weeks I'll go as high as 100,000 in a week. But generally I take somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000.

So what's the point of knowing all that?

Supposedly, it's meant to make you aware, or, if you like buzzwords, mindful. The data paints one kind of picture of who you are. The potential for collecting all this data isn't hard to imagine—medical use cases, weight loss, changing bad habits like lazing on the couch with a bag of Cheetos. That's the promise you're buying into when you invest in a fitness tracker. Every buzz and achievement badge you unlock is meant to motivate you to change your behavior for the better.

Scientifically, the jury is out as to whether wearables actually help to change behavioral habits. For every study that says wearables have no impact on improving health, you can find one that says they do—albeit a moderate effect. A 2015 review of wearables by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that they had "small positive effects on physical activity and weight." But a 2016 Gartner survey found that the abandonment rate for fitness trackers was 30 percent, as users didn't find them particularly useful or got bored.

"Many people are excited by the opportunity [to change health behaviors]. But that's part of the challenge. For most people, for the average person, and especially someone who has a chronic condition or is overweight, giving someone a wearable device is not effective at improving their behavior," says Mitesh Patel, Assistant Professor of Health Care Management at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

But when you ask a wearables maker, they're going to tell you differently. After all, they spend a lot of time, money, and effort designing products and apps that retain and motivate users.

Though it had a rocky start last year, to the average consumer, Fitbit is consistently one of the top wearables brands. In 2017, the company reported that its active user base grew to more than 25 million.

Fitness Trackers Changed My Life>"From our perspective," says Melanie Chase, vice president of product marketing at Fitbit, "we want to be a wearable that people wear all the time. And then on top of that, there are real motivating features that keep people moving."

Of these features, Chase points to Fitbit's Reminders to Move: 10 minutes before each hour, you get a buzz on your arm encouraging you to take 250 steps. I've become intimately familiar with this feature; at one point, I wouldn't even need to look down at my wrist to know it was ten to the hour. In the beginning I'd comply, especially if I felt like productively procrastinating. Later, it just gets easy to ignore.

"Our team here, which has behavior change experts and research scientists, modeled out a bunch of ways to deliver this feature. What we found was if you buzz people 10 minutes before, they had time to make an impact. Then, you buzz them to reward them afterwards. We've seen 70 percent of our low-activity users moved more after using our reminders, and then even beyond that, months later, we were seeing changes in their patterns."

It's hard to argue the numbers when you don't have access to Fitbit's vault of data. But in my own experience, at least in the beginning, it worked. I found reasons to get up from my desk—mostly to trek to the watercooler in the office pantry, exactly 220 steps from my desk—so I could hit my goal.

I can also tell you that after a few months, I went into the app and disabled it—because it drove me crazy.

You're Your Own Worst Enemy

It's no secret that many trackers end up collecting dust at the bottom of a drawer after a few months. Humans are notoriously good at keeping bad habits and bad at building good ones.

It doesn't help that finding a wearable that works for you is hard to do. Whether they're on your wrist, in your ears, or clinging to the underside of your bra, no one really agrees on the best way to make them stick. Either they're too bulky, too uncomfortable, or you just get tired of the whole routine. In fact, when you get a bunch of wearables reviewers together, we whisper about those glorious days when we don't have to wear one at all; when our wrists are bare, and we don't have to deal with the anxiety of failing to reach a daily step goal or count the days since we've crushed it at the gym. (Hint: It's always too many.)

Though the stickiness problem is a many-headed hydra, battery life definitely plays a big role. In reviews, it can be the deciding factor between an Editors' Choice or a middling 3-star rating. Take the Fitbit Ionic: According to Chase, every Fitbit product is rated for five-plus days of battery life—and in testing, I found the Ionic lasted as long as a full week without needing a charge. Conversely, the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE zapped out after just one and a half days of regular use.

Charging is relatively simple, but a wearable isn't like a smartphone. The average person can safely leave a fitness tracker at home without consequences, other than losing a day of data. But when one day turns into two days turns into two months, the stickiness is gone.

"Every time you take off the device, there's a chance you're not going to put it back on," says Patel. "Any device you have to take off when you go in the shower or you have charge every couple of days, people are less likely to stick with that, because they have to actively put it back on."

Another problem lies in how these devices provide incentives. Leaderboards, for example, are a popular feature in many wearable apps. The idea is that competing against your peers will inspire you to get up off that couch.

"The leaderboard is a big motivator. Throughout Fitbit's history, people with at least one friend take 700 more steps per day than people who don't have friends," says Chase. "You can throw out a challenge [against your friends], and what we see is that people take 2,000 more steps per day when they participate in a challenge."

Whether that works, though, depends on your personality. For a couple weeks, I got into intense competitions with PCMag Senior Designer James Jacobsen that involved Sharks-versus-Jets finger snapping in the hallways, sore feet, and weekly step counts surpassing 100,000. Bone tired after work and out of sheer spite, I'd drag my poor roommate and dog to Prospect Park for "Eff You James" walks to help me keep up or at least close the gap. But this kind of competitive fervor isn't always sustainable. James won one week; I won the next. And then we stopped.

"The fundamental problem with the leaderboard is that it's motivating the person at the top," says Patel. "That person is already active to start. The people who need most motivation are the people at the bottom. However, they're getting demotivated, because it's hard to catch the person who is already going on a 5-mile run every day. We found it's more effective to show them the person in the middle, because they're shown something that's within reach. The people who did the worst were the ones who got shown how top performers did."

This bears out in practice, for me. When Fitbit launched the Ionic at a special event in Montauk this past August, the divide between fitness and tech journalists was like a high school cafeteria where jocks and nerds sit at different tables. Despite, shall we say, my lack of natural enthusiasm for physical exertion, I'm not totally unathletic. Growing up, I played softball, ran track (albeit slowly), played volleyball, swam, biked, skated, kickboxed, rock-climbed—the works. But among the athletically endowed in Montauk, I was out of my league.

This was most evident during the two exercise events in which Fitbit had us participate. In my hubris, I chose running and swimming—two activities I enjoy. The thing is, I enjoy these activities at my pace and ability. I can run a 5K, around 3.1 miles, in about 45 minutes; I have never claimed to be Speedy Gonzales. But running in a pack of buff fitness journalists led by ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes is like trying to keep up with a modern-day Hermes. Fleet of foot and glistening, they glided atop the asphalt like lithe cheetahs. In comparison, I felt grossly inadequate, wheezing through a 4-mile course in blistering summer heat.

Likewise, a pool exercise led by actual Amazon Gabby Reece left me mildly traumatized. I don't have noodle arms, but doing a gator crawl with 20-pound weights at the bottom of a pool was like coming to terms with my own death by drowning. I am not ashamed that I couldn't complete the grueling hour of exercise—I was actually flabbergasted that I made it through all but one of the circuits.

"It's definitely not about shaming you," Chase insists. "It's not about 'Oh, you didn't do a good job this time.' It's just about, get out there and try again." But I was left wondering how many people of average or below-average fitness would feel when forced to face their own physical shortcomings—and whether it would put them off trying altogether.

Numbers Mean Nothing Without Context

In between testing lots of different wearables, I usually stick to the Fitbit Alta HR. It's small enough to be unobtrusive, it's flexibly fashionable, and its long battery life means I can get a decent amount of wear before I forget to charge it. I've been wearing the Alta HR for roughly a year, and because it's my job, I've hooked it up to an If This Then That (IFTTT) recipe to automatically record my stats into a spreadsheet on my computer. I now have cells upon cells of personal data recorded by that device—how many steps I took on a given day, how many miles I walked, how many hours I slept.

It's a diary of sorts—a record of my life in numbers. But there's very little context for what I'm seeing. Take heart rate, for example. After a year, I have a pretty good sense of what my basic resting heart rate is. But that big picture only emerges after a long time. In the short term, it means hardly anything.

In early December, I was caught up in a gun scare at a movie theater in downtown Manhattan (it turned out to be a false alarm). I was wearing my Fitbit at the time. For me this was a harrowing ordeal—I was trampled by a panicked crowd, lost my shoes, and ran barefoot into the freezing winter night. But these events registered only as spikes of sporadically elevated heart rate. Because, again, I do this for a living, I remember checking my Fitbit mid-anxiety attack to see whether it could track the sudden change in my heart rate. As I hyperventilated on the sidewalk, I was impressed to see it had reached 110 bpm.

Fitness Trackers Changed My Life>Later at home, even though I could see my heart rate rapidly jumped from 70 to 120 beats per minute, I found that it didn't even register as light exercise in the app. I know I had an anxiety attack only because I remember the date, time, and circumstance. I have no idea how this data was parsed by Fitbit's algorithm.

As someone with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, managing anxiety and panic attacks is a part of my life. Regarding tracking my overall health and data, it'd be useful if I could get insight as to when these attacks occurred. That would give me a great incentive to stay on the wearable horse, so to speak. But unfortunately, insight into when these attacks might occur is not likely in the near term.

"When it comes to preventative care, doctors are not set up for that yet. There just isn't an infrastructure that's been built over time," says Dr. Steven LeBeouf, founder of Valencell, a biometric sensor technology company for wearables and "hearables" (trackers worn on or in your ears). "It'd have to be built by insurers, and they'd have to push it. On the prevention side, it's slow."

"Our goal is really to provide users with personalized guidance and actual insight based on their own data," adds Fitbit's Chase. "In terms of contextualizing the data we collect, we want to make it meaningful. We actually recently published a peer-reviewed paper that showed we were able to predict instances of atrial fibrillation about 98 percent of the time. But people aren't used to getting data from their Fitbit that says, 'Hey, you might have a heart condition, you should look into this.'"

Medically speaking, a lot of the marketing around heart-rate monitors centers on heart health. If you've seen one wearables press conference, you've seen them all—and usually, there's a story about how someone was able to detect a heart attack before it actually happened, because they noticed an abnormal spike in their bpm. That's a powerful narrative that speaks to the medical usefulness of wearables. But it's also limited to a certain demographic.

You'd think that more data might be the answer. But with metrics—heart rate, sleep, steps—there's only so much you can understand. And there's only so much that informs you about how your behaviors impact your health. After a few weeks, once you've established your baseline, the appeal of seeing how well you did each day wears off. Data fatigue is real.

"For most people, giving them more data is not helpful. It's about framing the data," says Patel.

"Data is so rich right now, in the sense that it's gotten so much more accurate, to the point where it could be really useful," adds LaBeouf. "But what we see a lot of people talking about today is well, we got these really accurate sensors. How can we provide more value to the consumer? It's less about the metrics and more about the new user experience."

The Human Element

For all the roadblocks and hurdles wearables must overcome to become concrete healthcare solutions, a greater awareness of your baseline can be incredibly valuable. Even if you're not a self-quantifying nut, the benefits of knowing your own body can't be discounted.

After my semi-active youth, I was not the type of person who imagined herself as a regular gym-goer or liable to run for anything other than the subway. So, of course, I found myself in my late twenties with some extra poundage. And because anyone who has ever dieted is intimately acquainted with calorie counting and the couch-to-5K program, I was ready to slough off some weight with the help of my handy-dandy Fitbit.

For a good 12 weeks, I laboriously logged every meal, calorie, and run, and hit my daily goal of 10,000 steps at least six days a week. I cut alcohol and desserts entirely from my diet, along with any food that was remotely delicious. I was subsisting on bland chicken, salmon, and steamed vegetables, and missing bread like it was the one true love of my life. I wasn't expecting to lose 20 pounds in a month, but I should have seen some progress in exchange for my immense sacrifice. Instead, I gained weight. And not in muscle.

Fitness Trackers Changed My Life>

Surely, I thought, the universe couldn't hate me that much. So I visited my doctor and relayed my frustrations. I didn't go so far as to whip out my phone and wave the data in my doctor's face, but it did provide evidence that my weight gain continued despite a strict diet and exercise plan. Blood tests later revealed that my high testosterone levels and infrequent periods made it likely I had polycystic ovary syndrome—a condition that often leads to weight gain in women. I'd never thought twice about whether something other than poor lifestyle choices could be a factor in my struggle to lose weight. I'm not entirely sure I would've found out if I hadn't bought a fitness tracker.

Experts say that certain psychological tricks could determine whether wearables evolve into an essential piece of tech or stay a mildly convenient peripheral. For one, you could switch the motivational focus from gaining achievements to maintaining them, as people are more incentivized by loss. You could also shift focus away from gamification (features like point scoring, competition, etc.) to community support—which seems to be taking off. Over the past few years, Fitbit in particular has beefed up its social community with feeds, sub groups, and video-based training. Other solutions could potentially include insurers and employers giving financial incentives to employees to use wearables. But it mostly boils down to a vaguely defined human element.


The fact is, some people will never need a wearable to motivate themselves. Others will do much better with a wearable plus a personal trainer. And others still will find that they thrive with the quantification and competition they can get from wearables alone. I will likely vacillate between weeks of hyper intensity, weeks when I kinda just do my thing, and weeks when I don't wear one at all.

Doctors may see an inherent value in tracking certain health conditions, or they may not. In the future, you might find it helpful to track your blood pressure with a wearable. You might also decide you'd rather jump out a window than constantly quantify yourself in that way. There are hundreds of thousands of millions of people, and no one solution will fit everyone.

In the end, having enough different types of solutions, so that you can figure out what works best for you, may be the best answer. And wearables will likely range as wildly as humans themselves., Site News Today\\\'s world Presenting Daily News News News Politics, Business, Sports Up Celebrity Gossip.

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