Is a smart watch a smart health move?

Is a smart watch a smart health move?

Smart watches and fitness trackers are adorning wrists across ages around the world. What’s driving the popularity of smart watches, what are the features to look for and how can a smart watch with fitness tracking features improve your health?

What is a smart watch?

A smart watch is a wearable mobile device that can perform a range of functions well beyond keeping time and setting alarms, including health and fitness tracking as one of many features. By accessing the internet via Bluetooth connection to a smart phone, smart watches are a digital tool that can help us organise our lives.

While smart watches have been around since 1982, 2010 onwards saw a flood of fitness brands peddling pedometers with built in heart monitors that evolved into sports or fitness trackers faster than you can say ‘cardiovascular’. These wearable health and fitness trackers have evolved into smart watches offering more and more features.

For the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on the fitness tracker capabilities of smart watches or stand alone wearable fitness trackers. We’ve kept this article brand agnostic but strongly recommend investing time researching what’s on offer, based on features that appeal to you.

What features do smart watches or health and fitness trackers offer?

The most basic of smart watches or health and fitness trackers will count the number of steps you take each day, tell you the time, provide you with an alarm function, convert your steps into kilometres and in turn convert this to kilojoules spent.

More sophisticated sports or fitness smart watches may provide one or more of the following features:

  • a built in heart rate monitor, sometimes accompanied with wearable chest monitor

  • a whole range of health and fitness tracking features

  • GPS tracking and monitoring

  • access to a whole range of nutrition, fitness and health apps that you can add on

  • a built in sleep monitor

  • alarms to help you achieve targets that you set and increase as your fitness improves. Those targets may include hours of stable sleep; steps per day; target heart rate; kilometres per day; kilojoules burned per day and any other data that you can imagine you’d want to set targets for!

  • silent, vibrating alarms to gently wake you up via a shake of your wrist

  • a whole range of analytics to assess your sleep; your cycling, running or walking activity and progress; and a whole range of your biometric data

  • increasingly health condition specific features are being offered – such as glucose monitoring to help manage diabetic conditions.

How can a smart watch or fitness tracker improve your health?

If you’re a person that embraces technology and loves a gadget, then a health and fitness tracker can be a great motivator when it comes to improving health and fitness.

Here are a number of ways that smart watch features can motivate you to take positive steps to improve your overall health.

Strive to keep beating your personal best

Fitness tracking features or apps encourage you to set measurable health and fitness goals such as how many:

  • Daily steps you want achieve
  • Kilometres you want to walk, jog, run or cycle
  • Kilojoules you want to burnKilometres per hour you want to aim to be able to walk, jog or cycle
  • Hours of activity you want to include in your day or week
  • Hours of sleep you want to average each night.

Once you’ve tailored your health and fitness goals and set them on your smart watch, an audible or vibrating alarm alerting you that you’re slipping behind your daily goals, or that you’ve just smashed a goal can get you moving! Of course once you’re regularly hitting a goal, you can increase your target.

Connect with a virtual fitness group to inspire healthy competition

If aiming to beat your own personal best isn’t motivating you, there are plenty of group fitness apps to pit you against others with similar goals. For the extroverts out there, you can choose to join a virtual walking, running or cycling group and interact and compete on a social media platform.

Strava; My Fitness Pal and Run Keeper are just a handful of examples of apps you can connect to. All the major sports brands offer their own apps to connect people via fitness goals.

Monitor your activity to reach your health and fitness goals

I didn’t realise how interrupted my sleep was every night until I started monitoring it. Waking up tired is a symptom of low quality sleep. By tracking your sleep patterns, you can then take positive steps to address interrupted sleep, and in turn improve your overall health.

Monitoring the number of steps you take each day is a great way to set a baseline of your current activity level. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can double your steps when you set a goal that you can monitor at a glance.

Keeping a daily food diary via a nutrition tracking app is a great way to monitor which nutrients you need to increase or decrease.

Map an outdoor fitness route

Many fitness trackers connect to a GPS via Bluetooth, enabling you to review or share your favourite walking, running or cycling route. You may also have the option of choosing an app or feature on your smart watch that lets you map out a route based on your locality and the number of kilometres you want to cover.

Runkeeper and Map My Walk are a couple of route tracking examples to explore.

Buying a smart watch won’t buy you instant health and fitness. However, in-built and opt-in health and fitness tracking features can get you well over the start line toward your goal of better health.

For more information

If you’re keen to start researching into investing in a fitness tracker, Australian product tester, Choice published a fitness tracker review in 2016:

Fitness trackers with heart rate monitors – what we found

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