How Digital Technology Now Tracks More Than Your Steps

Using Digital Technology to Track Activity (not Simply Steps)

Activity tracking has a history over 2,000 years long. The first we know of man tracking travel dates back to Roman times when a rudimentary, yet surprisingly accurate, odometer was designed to measure the distance a vehicle travelled. Centuries later, Leonardo Da Vinci produced sketches of a mechanical pedometer. In the 18th century, the first step-counting device was introduced to North America by Thomas Jefferson.

For centuries, step-tracking had been the prevailing method of tracking human activity. It was not until 2008 that commercial activity trackers start to include functions other than simple step-counting (see: 2000 years of activity tracking in one infographic).

Going Beyond the Steps

It appears that the desire for humans to record and track is somewhat inherent. Now, digital technology offers wearable devices and mobile software applications that can help us track all sorts of activities — well beyond counting steps — and efficiently push us toward health and wellness.

Personal sleep tracking and heart rate monitoring are two of the most commonly added parameters, with calorie counting being a popular option as well.

Devices such as the Misfit Shine can monitor your sleep in a remarkably detailed way and supply you with information on your sleep patterns, as well as act as a fitness tracker.

If you want to constantly monitor your heart rate, both at rest and during exertion, many wearables include this function too. One option to consider is the Fitbit Surge, which also conveniently provides you with texts and notifications while you exercise.

Garmin’s Vivofit2 can become your companion if you are trying to improve your overall health and lose some unwanted pounds.

It not only counts your calories but also reminds you to stay active and provides you with personalized activity goals.

Advanced Sports Training Plans

If you like to engage in an activity that is not based on walking or running, many of the latest trackers move past the pedometer. Moreover, some of today’s wearables now come in a waterproof version, making them ideal for swimming enthusiasts. For example, Garmin Swim is a swimming compatible fitness tracker that measures your pool and/or open water performance and provides you with data on the number of strokes, stroke type, distance traveled and more. It also lets you analyze and evaluate your training session by wirelessly uploading your data to Garmin Connect.

Moov Now, on the other hand, has been suggested for avid triathletes and cyclists. It offers actionable multi-sport activity data and has been dubbed the wearable coach. It can be clipped on and worn around your leg to minimally disturb your activity while providing you with feedback regarding your technique and helping you improve your fitness.

Consumer and Science Reviews

It is relevant to consider that users have various experience using activity trackers, ranging from very positive to somewhat disappointing. The scientific community is divided on the efficacy of tracking. Jeon Lee and Joseph Finkelstein from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore performed a critical review of seven representative activity-tracking devices. In their article, published in 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, the authors reported “critical absence of supporting evidence of advertised functions and benefits for the majority of the devices.” Information on sensor accuracy and output validity was missing in six out of seven cases, which could suggest that some functions of commercial trackers are overstated. In contrast, a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that trackers can be helpful under certain conditions.

Although new devices are continually being innovated to address specific activities, so is sophisticated software. Your smartphone might just be sufficient to track your activity of choice. Before you invest in a wearable device, it might make sense to see if you can find a mobile app that does the trick — there are apps for tracking everything from yoga to activity on stationary cardio equipment.

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