For better or for worse, we’re far along in the Digital Age, and information is more and more widely available. Technologies in our home, phones, and now watches can now readily give us data that would’ve required a specialist’s intervention not a decade ago. With the advancement of technology comes the advancement of health tracking capabilities. While calories and steps are worthy measurements for some, the tracking capabilities of smartwatches now stretch far beyond the MyFitnessPal craze to workout metrics, sleep tracking, mental health, and more.
Food Tracking Apps
Don’t get us wrong, we do still love the MyFitnessPal (MFP) app and use it with nutrition patients regularly. Conveniently, the program has adapted itself for multiple fitness watches, some with more capabilities than others. What calorie counting apps like MFP do is both keep track of how many calories you eat in a day and how many you burn so that you can accurately discuss your metrics when speaking with your dietitian or healthcare provider. Now, instead of guessing how many calories you burned during the day, smartwatches are now equipped with heart rate monitors and intensity monitors that can relatively accurately calculate how many calories you’ve burned in a given time. Fitness watches with smaller touchscreens like the Garmin Vivofit 4 will automatically add your daily steps and calories burned to your calorie counting app so you can share your wins with your healthcare provider. Watches with more touchscreen capability, like the Apple Watch, give you the ability to add “quick calories” every time you snack, add water intake, and see your remaining calories available – all from your wrist. Many apps have joined the market to make calorie counting and burning easy, and we love the convenience of having it on your watch.
Not only can you track your calories in and out, most smartwatches can also keep you accountable to customizable move goals. Some watches remind you to stand when you’ve been sitting for over an hour, or some will congratulate you when you’re more active in a day compared to normal. Once you work with your physical therapist to learn the exercises your body needs, your watch can remind you to perform those exercises up to a few times a day! When working through weight loss, receiving a few reminders to move for 5 minutes can add up.
Tracking calories burned and heart rate during your workouts are the two most common features of any smartwatch, but some go beyond and include GPS and pace, speed, and elevation for bikers and runners. The Apple Watch gives you awards when you try a new exercise, notifications that release dopamine into the pleasure centers of your brain making new activities more rewarding. Chain Effect owner Taylor Pope recommends using the heart rate monitor on your smartwatch to run sprints to get the most from your workouts. Instead of using arbitrary rest times dictated by someone else between your sprints, know when your heart is really ready to start the next sprint by watching it decrease until it reaches 65% of your maximum heart rate. For him, that’s around 140 bpm (though it varies per person). You can work with your personal trainer to enhance your workouts even further with your watch.
Sleep is essential for recovery. Smartwatches can help remind you that bedtime is approaching or give you nudges to turn off the TV an hour before bed – by now we all know the effects of blue light on sleep before bed. You can add sleep goals of hours per night and adjust your alarm accordingly. Waking up is easier with gentle vibrations on the wrist instead of (or in addition to – you choose!) the loud blaring of the alarm that wakes up everyone in the house.
There are also many apps for sleep tracking – our favorite being Autosleep. Though a small fee for the app, it tracks everything from heart rate dip, sleep quality, deep sleep amount, blood oxygen level, and how long it takes you to fall asleep. Seeing that you had a few nights of poor sleep can be motivation to get yourself to bed early the next night and improve sleep hygiene. After a while, you’ll start to see trends in your sleep, like quality of sleep after alcohol or after a tough volleyball tournament. Ultimately, how you feel upon waking is the most important thing, and only you can know that, but objective data can help you deepen your relationship with your sleep.
It’s no surprise that mental health has been a huge topic of discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as we slowly exit the height of the pandemic, mental health is an important topic of conversation to continue, and the apps spurring from that conversation are widespread. While we prefer a NuCalm experience at the Chain Effect office for the most comprehensive stress-relief experience (exciting updates with NuCalm coming soon…), your watch can offer you a gentle reminder that it’s time to take a few deep breaths multiple times throughout your day which can kick-start your reduced-stress lifestyle and weight loss. Others can send little affirmations or kind messages to your watch to help you reprogram your thoughts from the usual “ugh!” to a new “awh!” This may be the first type of alert that actually ends in relaxation.
After a quick overview of a few ways smartwatches can help your data collection, we like to think that we can use the Digital Age to our advantage. Ultimately, data is just data until you and your healthcare provider create a plan specific to achieve your goals, taking into account your physical history and lifestyle. In addition, any smartwatch, no matter what functionalities it has, can not receive the internal messages that your body sends you, so working with your accountability or healthcare provider to navigate anything that pops up is crucial for long-term behavior change. Together with your internal messages, your licensed healthcare professional, and now your watch metrics, you are more equipped than ever to achieve the life you truly want. Put them all together and watch the benefits unfold.