Consumers are sold fitness trackers as a simple, low-cost solution to track all of their daily health goals, from the amount of minutes spent sleeping to those spent on the mat. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that step counters and fitness monitors have become increasingly popular around the world. According to Statistica, in 2018, manufacturers supplied slightly more than 70 million fitness and activity trackers globally. Fitbit, the market leader in the fitness wearable category, sold 16 million units in 2019, and 10.6 million units in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Heart rate, sleep phases, resting pulse, and other biometric parameters are frequently displayed on newer fitness trackers. However, a new study from the University of Copenhagen discovered that, while health apps and fitness tracker devices might help people live a healthier lifestyle, they can also increase anxiety by asking them questions like-
Is my heart pounding a little faster than usual?
Is a heart attack on the way?
I didn’t get as much sleep last night as I thought I did — is that dangerous for my heart?
Health apps and fitness trackers can reveal a lot about how our bodies work and provide advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
According to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), self-measuring can have drawbacks. The study looked at the experiences of 27 heart patients who used ‘Fitbit’ fitness monitors to track their sleep, heart rates, and physical activity.
During the six months that they wore the watches, the 28–74 year old cardiac patients gained a better understanding of their conditions and were inspired to exercise, but they also felt more anxious.
The Health Inspection Team analyzes several facts on the usage of fitness trackers and anxiety, based on findings from numerous scientific reports, but first, let’s discuss-
What exactly is anxiety? Why is this a significant disorder to be concerned about?
‘Anxiety is the body’s response to worry and fear,’ says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a New York City neuropsychologist and Columbia University faculty member.
However, it is not so straightforward because people’s levels of worry and how much it impacts their quality of life vary greatly. It can be fatal at times. Anxiety affects around 264 million persons worldwide. (WHO, 2017). Anxiety is the most frequent mental illness in the United States, with 40 million persons suffering from it. (2020, according to the ADAA)
Before you put on a fitness tracker, there are a few things you should know:
At initially, the relationship with the tracker can be healthy, however this is not always the case:
Many people find that using fitness and food trackers encourages them to be more health-conscious. The devices and applications provide them a realistic picture of how much exercise they’re getting. Furthermore, the social side of sharing goal progress can give a supportive group and an encouraging cheering squad, which can be quite beneficial to many people. “People find trackers incredibly motivating, and they feel bad if they don’t use them,” says Mary Pritchard, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Boise State University. That can be both beneficial and detrimental.”
Pritchard also stated that tracking is beneficial when it stimulates you to go for a walk and you enjoy seeing your progress. However, if it interferes with things you normally do, there’s a red flag that tracker usage is becoming harmful. For instance, you may begin to cancel engagements with friends or family in order to exercise or avoid eating “bad” foods.
It can generates anxiety if you focus on numbers:
The usage of health apps such as the Fitbit watch is part of a growing trend to track the health of people with chronic conditions, among other things.
According to main researcher Andersen of the University of Copenhagen study, fitness trackers have a lot of potential. “Using health apps like the Fitbit watch to engage patients outside of the hospital has huge promise. However, according to the study’s authors, in order for health applications to have an impact, patients require assistance analyzing data linked to sleep, heart rate, and activity habits.
“One of the trackers’ flaws is that many of them report multiple things,” Pritchard added. “They sometimes provide us with too much information. They have no idea that we’re only attempting to concentrate on this one thing.” Pritchard has a clever and straightforward approach that might be of assistance: Check your tracking devices or app’s settings to see if you can hide the items you don’t want to be tracked. When you’re not distracted by material you don’t want, you might even find that you accomplish your one goal faster, according to Pritchard.
A gym partner or a reward system, rather than a fitness tracker, may be a better motivation for you:
You can use a variety of strategies to motivate yourself to exercise. Finding a workout partner, arranging your schedule ahead of time, and curating killer music are just a few of the numerous possibilities. The bottom line is that if a tracker becomes more of a hindrance than a benefit, there are a plethora of alternative resources available to provide additional motivation.
If you insist on using a tracker, Pritchard recommends using it solely to check in on your progress. “Use it for a week when you first get it,” she advises. “Then put it away until you’re ready to check back in.” If you decide to wear it every day, be aware of your actions.
More information calms, but it also raises doubt:
Patients get the impression that they are becoming more aware of their overall health, but they connect the knowledge to their heart condition, which has no scientific validity. For instance, if they see that they aren’t sleeping as much as they should, they feel concerned and fear that their sickness will worsen. They also frequently associate a fast heart rate with a higher risk of heart attack. “If your data reveals that you’re sleeping well and have a low heart rate, a watch like Fitbit might be soothing. Because the watch is meant for sports and health rather than illness management, you won’t be able to use data directly related to heart disease “Andersen clarifies.
Patients get the courage to exercise while also dealing with feelings of guilt:
Exercise is another component of a fitness watch, such as the Fitbit watch, that has both positive and negative characteristics. On the one hand, patients were encouraged to be active, but the app also highlighted when they did not take the recommended 10,000 steps per day, making many of them feel bad. “Because the Fitbit watch isn’t meant for cardiac patients, they shouldn’t always follow the same activity guidelines as people in good health,” Andersen argues.
The use of wearable sensor technologies in health care settings has high expectations, and the lines between wellness tracking and illness self-monitoring are becoming increasingly blurred. If you want to improve your fitness level, however, it will be through exercise and a heart-healthy diet, not through the gadget that you have.