The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 30, 2019 1:00 am

Personal file

Health trackers can provide the push needed to get moving

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

I've had a regular exercise habit, more or less, most of my adult life, usually revolving around walking.

The “more or less” is my way of confessing that at times I am lax, particularly during winter months when cold weather and less daylight make me apt to lounge in bed longer in the mornings. If I don't exercise in the morning, I'm less likely to get much concentrated exercise in.

As a newspaper editor, my job is largely sedentary. But it wasn't until I noticed an app simply labeled “Health” on my iPhone that I became so conscious of just how many hours I spend at my desk.

I don't recall downloading the app. But a few years ago, there it was – tracking my steps, or, once I hit the office, the lack of.

Whoa. I realized, thanks to technology, I needed to be much more conscious about my movement once my workday started – even if I'd taken a morning walk.

After monitoring my movement through the app a while, I checked out others in the Apple Store that would keep tabs of my steps and other fitness metrics. I became fond of one called Pacer, which in the most recent version, includes not just challenges to meet various step goals, but basic workouts. A user could consider options such as a 10-minute daily stretch for a 27-calorie burn, a five-minute office unwind to burn 13 calories, or a 15-minute full body strength session where you would lose 99 calories. 

I'm intrigued with the level of activities being embedded into these apps, and there are dozens that I haven't even reviewed. Many are free, though even some free ones may require a subscription to access certain activities or content.

The biggest problem I had with the phone apps is that they could only calculate my steps when I had the phone on me. Because there were many days I didn't have pockets, it was impossible to have my movement accurately documented to know whether I had reached the 10,000 daily step goal.

So I decided to try the Fitbit Alta. I purchased it at Walmart, and it was easy to create an account and have the information from the wristband tracker show up on the app I downloaded on my phone. After a year or so, I purchased a Fitbit HR, which had a more secure band, even though I later ordered a more fashionable metal band to wear with the tracker. 

Fitbit tracks most of the key elements I was interested in with the regular phone apps. It also tracks my sleep pattern, though that can be misleading. I noticed one day when I was at a movie theater, taking advantage of the comfortable reclining chairs, the Fitbit activity showed I'd had a two-hour nap.

One mystery I have yet to solve is why the Fitbit rarely tracks my steps in Walmart stores. I go there at least once a week for groceries or other items. As I told one of my close friends, I need credit for those steps, too.

Despite the quirks, and some debate about the accuracy of trackers, I find them a useful way to keep me conscious of physical activity, and the need for rest.

I've got my Fitbit programmed to send me a notification at 10:45 p.m. each night. It sends an alert to my phone with messages such as “It's time to rest and recharge” or “It's almost time for bed.”

Depending on my task list, though, I'm not always able to honor the gentle advisories.

It was 1:05 a.m. when I finished writing the first draft of this.

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