Tracking fitness & health has to get easier

Tracking fitness & health has to get easier

Should I type in every cookie in there? Smartwatch and smartphone help me a lot today to improve my fitness and health. But for that I had to deal intensively with various devices and even with research. Tracking with smartwatches and fitness trackers needs to become much more accessible.

Smart gadgets, in the right conditions, can encourage us to live fitter and healthier lives. Research seems to be basically in agreement on this. Health scientist Ursula Meidert and fitness tracking computer scientist Elisabeth Häusler reveal more about this in episode 5 of the FutureNow podcast . The question is which devices, apps and data we need for this and how we best use them.

A few years ago I borrowed the Fitbit Charge 2 fitness tracker, then tested the Huawei Watch 2 smartwatch and bought the Matrix PowerWatch . I didn't find all the fitness data too helpful back then. On the contrary, I felt reminded of my Tamagotchi, which constantly annoyed me with the request that it wanted to be fed. Nope. Fortunately for her, I don't have any pets.

I have to take so many steps

Enough of fitness gadgets, I returned to strength training. I've been doing this fairly regularly for many years and according to a professional training plan for about four years. However, this does not make sense every day because the joints can be damaged and the muscles need regeneration time – one to three times a week is recommended.

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Even strength training is not enough for fitness. Image:

However, I read in a few articles that you should walk the infamous 10,000 steps every day and that my strength training is not enough to stay fit. On top of that, the training did not help you lose weight. All I have to do now is carry a heavy muscle mass with me. Although I was already fitter from the equipment training, I had some room for improvement. For example, I used to let myself be driven from the subway to training because I was too weak to run back and forth regularly for half an hour.

So I'm supposed to run more. Fortunately, the smartphone is enough to count steps – no gadget required. And that's my first tip.

Andreas' fitness tips: The cell phone is often enough

If you just want to track walking and hiking for basic fitness, you don't need an additional gadget. The smartphone is sufficient for this.

But 10,000 steps take a lot of time, that's six to eight kilometers. The way to work hadn't given me that, where should I go with these steps? My ingenious input: I went to McDonald's and rewarded myself for all the running. It took me a long time not to have to reward myself for regular exercise. Exercise has many health, wellbeing and sleep benefits, and in a sense it is its own reward. But I had to experience this first. That being said, it's a great opportunity to listen to audio books, music, and lectures.

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Jogging is not necessary, walking fast does a lot for your fitness. Image:

Health research now recommends 7,500 steps , according to an article in The Conversation . I can do that almost always without wasting my time. I even get cardio points for it in the Google Fit app.

It makes most sense to take a personally appropriate value and then slowly increase. For health reasons, however, there should be more than 5,000 steps from the start and with over 7,500 steps a day there is apparently no longer any great fitness advantage. Calories are still burned with more steps.

Andreas fitness tips: Take it easy

Choose goals that don't overwhelm you. Gradually increase yourself.

It took me years to get to the bottom of the complex mystery of "walking". Every fitness app told me something different or didn't give me any clear guidelines. Without looking at the results of health research and sports medicine, I wouldn't be fitter today. How can you expect all this work from people who buy a fitness tracker to get their lazy bums up more often?

Exercise regularly

The weight training regularity could be better for me. It's not like paying for it and not going for months, but I don't always make it twice a week. The weight training tracking with my Smartwatch Fossil Gen 6 helps. This is listed separately in the Google Fit app so that I can see when I was last in the fitness center.

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Thanks to tracking, you won't lose sight of your training. Image:

Various other fitness trackers and smartwatches can also track different sports , whether Fitbit, Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch. A gadget with a heart rate monitor is useful for this because the pulse tells you when you are exerting yourself and also when you are overdoing it.

Andreas' fitness tips: You don't need a thousand sensors

Healthy people do not need a blood pressure monitor and a blood oxygen sensor such as those offered by newer gadgets.

Tracking allows you to keep track of your sports. Points as a reward or a comparison with other users can also have a motivating effect. In addition to strength training, walking and hiking, I also track my bike tours. Unfortunately, no app tells us that one by no means replaces the other .

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Cycling is particularly recommended for fitness … Image:

This is confirmed by the measurements with my Fossil Gen 6.

This is confirmed by the measurements with my Fossil Gen 6.

The pulse rises significantly when cycling.

The pulse rises significantly when cycling.

And there are even more cardio points than for strength training.

And there are even more cardio points than for strength training.

Today, more and more people hang around in the home office all day wondering why they can no longer carry shopping bags and where their back problems come from. I hadn't always known better. I only train myself because many years ago I was prescribed health gymnastics. My skeleton had gradually assumed unsightly shapes because my muscles were no longer sufficient for a healthy posture. Gadgets can help us adopt healthy habits like weight training.

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The cardio points (green) are deceptive – you need exercises for muscle building as well as for fitness. Image:

Unfortunately, there are peculiar hurdles in sports tracking, depending on the app and device. In Google Fit, for example, I can only track strength training as a training unit in total – but then I don't know how much time I spent on each machine. However, it is precisely this information that is needed for strength training according to a training plan. Obviously there would have to be a stopwatch within the tracking app for that.

Andreas' fitness tips: Track all sports

Track each of your sports in one app. This way you keep track of your activities and are motivated to stay on the ball.

Tracking of Food and Water?

As far as I know, a change in diet would make the most sense for losing weight. So not a short-term diet that you break off again anyway, but a consistently different diet. For example, eat less sugar overall, more vegetables or switch to a specific calorie budget per day. It could help if you write down what you eat every day in an app.

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Tracking food and beverages is easier with the app than on paper – but it is still real work. Image:

The Samsung Health app and similar apps make this task easier . You can search for breakfast, lunch and so on in the app, what you have eaten, and the food is entered including the kilocalories. This still works when it comes to a banana or a boiled egg – but a complex lunch can hardly be captured in this way. For this you would have to put at least every piece of meat, vegetables, sauce and pasta on the plate individually on the scales, otherwise the calories will not be correct.

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How much is a glass of water? Even water tracking is harder than you might think. Image:

Plus, tracking food makes you a nutritional accountant . It was so frustrating that I once ate a bag of chips as a reward while filling out the form. Even tracking water sounds easier on paper than it actually is. How much is a glass of water? What if I drink orange juice or sugar-free soda instead of water?

I'm sorry, the day only has 24 hours and I sleep part of that time. Fitness and health tracking should help me lead a healthier lifestyle. I don't need a part-time job as a nutrition accountant.

Andreas' fitness tips: diet tracking is not a must

Water and food tracking is only for people who need to do it for medical reasons. It's just too much of a hassle for others.

So far I have not succeeded in trying to change my diet, with one exception: I have not been eating red and white meat at home for a few months, only fish as a substitute. That is quite a change. However, nutrition tracking didn't help me. It remains to be seen whether, in addition to animal welfare and the avoidance of too much (especially processed) meat, it is also useful for losing weight. When I'm out with others, I continue to eat everything, because I don't want to annoy anyone with my half-baked nutritional ideas.

There are different opinions on how useful it is to track calories . Perhaps approaches like intermittent fasting or intuitive eating are better. Gadgets will probably not tell us.

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I will do without nutrition tracking in the future. Image:

Please make fitness and health tracking more accessible

Fitness and health tracking are way too complicated . I was ultimately able to improve my fitness and sleep with it, but that was not possible without a lot of additional research. For the episode " Smartwatches: Digital Medical Assistants of the Future " of the podcast, I dealt in detail with the topic of health tracking together with our host and YouTube moderator Jens.

The result of a new meta-study from November 2021, which evaluated 19 individual studies, does not surprise me in the least. According to the meta study, fitness and health tracking only help the relatively wealthy and educated . That says The effectiveness of digital interventions for increasing physical activity in individuals of low socioeconomic status: a systematic review and meta-analysis . The researchers are not sure why this is so.

They suspect that it is too difficult, especially for poorer and less educated people , to understand the data on their fitness bracelets and smartwatches – as a technology journalist I needed a lot of research and practical experience myself – and / or to take the time to do it and learn lessons from it. Unfortunately, from a statistical point of view, these are precisely the people who would benefit most from being able to pay more attention to their health and fitness.

Andreas' fitness tips: stay on the ball

Smartwatches and fitness trackers can motivate you to learn more about a healthy lifestyle. However, changing habits is very difficult – don't expect miracles or give up too quickly.

"People who would benefit most from these interventions are left behind," the study authors say. Fitness trackers and smartwatches are mainly produced and marketed for the wealthy, who get a little fitter, although on average they are already fitter than low-wage earners.

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Fitness tracking should be made simpler so that more people can benefit from it. Image:

I would like manufacturers and app developers to make fitness and health tracking more accessible . That would serve people like me back then who first have to adopt a healthy lifestyle. But above all people who are already left behind in many areas of life. Human companions would be even more important here – and we cannot pass this responsibility on to gadget manufacturers.

More about fitness tracking from Andreas

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