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Did you get a new smartwatch as a gift this year? Fitness trackers are increasingly popular and have become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Even if the gift was the last thing you wanted, don’t just stuff it in a drawer. Trackers can be enormously useful once you master the basics, especially for people who are new to exercise.

With fitness trackers, virtual competition can spur you on and keep you accountable

In fact, I recommend that you wear your device all day and look at the results each night. Simply tracking your steps or calories may help you to become more fit. Give it a try by following these four steps to ensure that your new companion helps you meet your fitness goals.

1.Don’t Expect Perfection

When the American Council on Exercise commissioned a study of five popular trackers from a research team at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, in 2015, it concluded that none of them were entirely accurate.   Most devices are reasonably good at tracking the steps when you walk or run, and less precise at assessing calories burned. Among other reasons, people vary in how they use their arms. But absolute accuracy isn’t essential—the main goal is to see trends over time, answering questions like “Am I burning more calories than I did last week?”

2. Start Off Right

It’s tempting to dive right in and figure things out as you go along. But your watch won’t work well unless you take the time to set it up. Most trackers have simple programs that help you get started, including lessons about how to use their main features.

The numbers will only be meaningful if you calibrate your age, height and weight. Some devices allow you to adjust your stride length to help accurately track steps. Especially when you’re calibrating, it’s best to use your non-dominant wrist because you’ll move your dominant wrist more and that can make the results less accurate.

Sync your watch to your phone or computer, so you can view reports easily. Set your goals and reminders, which can be simple or complex. A reminder from your watch to get up and move every thirty minutes will give you a mental break and also add a lot of activity to your day.

3. Connect With Friends

Many watches allow you to send messages and see what your friends are accomplishing in their exercise time. Friendly rivalry and support are always at hand—well, wrist–even when nobody appears in person. Join the Olympians: people across the globe can gasp when you do your half mile in record time. Jokes aside, virtual competition can definitely spur you on and keep you accountable.

4. Use The Apps

You don’t have to stick with the features of your device. Enhance them by experimenting with a huge world of apps, many of which are available for free.

For example, runners can use Strava to upload their data and compare it to data from friends. Strava will even steer you to local races and running clubs. MapMyRun can give you suggestions on paths to take that match your specifications. Runkeeper will note your pace and find a song on your phone that matches your tempo and mood.   Nike + Run Club makes it easy to boast and share maps on social media.

To keep track of your diet, explore MyFitnessPal, which offers a big food-library with fairly accurate calorie counts. You can also use it to instruct your watch to ping you if you go over a certain calorie or salt limit. Frequent travelers like Food Tripping, which informs you about the health food stores, farmer’s markets and eateries with healthier menus wherever you are.

Never underestimate the value of sufficient quality sleep. Any number of apps will track your sleep and wake you up. Some do more. SleepBot will keep track of your sleep debt, as just one example. Sleep As Android will provide CAPTCHA style wake-up tests so you’ll actually focus rather than shut it down and roll over.

My main advice: Use it! How many treadmills are abandoned in a basement or draped with clothing in your bedroom? Trackers are small, portable, and with all the apps on offer, endlessly entertaining.   There’s no excuse for getting bored or letting your tracker gather dust.

How has having a tracker helped you jumpstart a fitness program?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

Better Health Begins With You...

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