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Tracking fitness one step at a time
Photo courtesy: Brandon Rivera

By Joshua Pilkington

The fitness tracker boom should not replace proper diet and exercise

The watch – per se – has made a magnificent comeback in the last decade, though the accessory is no longer tracking hours…it’s tracking activity. Fitness bands like Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and the Apple Watch have placed the band back on the every-man and woman’s wrist and given new cause to the wristband.

“I picked mine up for a competition we were having at my office,” said Marcus Jones, 33, of Parker. “We were tracking steps and I figured I had a good shot at winning because I’m pretty active with running and biking.”

Though Jones, already regularly active, makes up a slice of the demographic pie for fitness tracker consumers, his situation is far from the norm as the main focus of the fitness tracker are those who want to get off the couch and get outside, on their terms.

“I think they are a great benefit to people,” said Jeanne Hartman, a physical therapist at Eastwest Physical Therapy. “A lot of people think that to lose weight through exercise they have to do two things: run and lift weights.”

Hartman added that such a mentality can often lead to people abandoning their physical fitness programs long before they begin to approach their goals.

“People will ask me, ‘how far do I need to run to lose x amount of weight?’ and I’ll ask them, ‘how much do you like to run?’ Usually the response is that they detest running,” she said laughing. “So I’ll tell them, ‘ok, then don’t run.’ People get caught up in the idea that running is the only way to lose weight and although it is a faster way to burn calories than walking, swimming or sometimes biking, it is not necessarily the best way to lose weight. Especially if you detest doing it!”

Where fitness trackers come into play, according to Hartman, is “they can create a gym out of your world.

“They can help you design a workout around what you like to do. Do you like to surf? Great, your fitness tracker can help you with that. Do you like to play basketball? Excellent your steps – and more importantly your calories burned – are tracked through that. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, all these activities that you love to do, but didn’t think they could form part of your weight-loss program now can. And more importantly, they can be tracked.”

Of course the fitness tracker is not without its downside as several stories have been released in the past year documenting how users have actually gained weight after using their fitness trackers.

“Part of that problem is inherent to the situation,” Hartman said. “Humans are not computers, so fitness and weight loss have more factors, more variables than just calories in, calories out.”

For one, she added, body types are different.

Metabolisms vary from person to person,” Hartman said. “A lot also depends on what type of foods you are consuming. A 2,000-calorie diet of simple sugars heavy fats is not the same as a 2,000-calorie diet of whole grains, leafy greens and fruits.”

Another factor is the type of exercise an individual does, independent of what the fitness tracker indicates.

“High-intensity workouts will boost the body’s metabolic functions and will keep you burning calories throughout the day,” she said. “Low-intensity workouts like walking or swimming will help you burn a lot of calories, but don’t really boost your metabolism, so what you burn then and then, is all you’re going to burn.”

As more people don fitness trackers, Hartman added that it is important to continue to balance diet and exercise sensibly for maximum results.

“You can base everything you do on the numbers coming from your tracker,” she advised. “As with any weight-loss and fitness program, you have to balance diet and aerobic and anaerobic exercise for maximum results.”





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