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As more wearable devices emerge promising to monitor heart rates and blood oxygen counts and even stress, it’s easy to reach information overload. Suddenly you’re swimming in data without any clue of what to do with it.
When the numbers start to become overwhelming, it can be helpful to take a step back to consider why you’re wearing these gadgets in the first place. Maybe you’re just looking for a nudge to improve your health, especially when you’re feeling anxious about too much sedentary time at work.
As much as the numbers, these nudges provided by new technologies can help spur new habits—and help users maintain them over time. Researchers have found that incentives to change these little habits can be effective. A Duke University study found wearables demonstrated positive effects on physical activity and weight loss. But to get the most out of these devices it’s a great idea to get up to speed on how to put the fascinating array of data they generate to use. The trick is to keep it simple.
From a broad view, you might focus on trends rather than specific numbers. With the help of complementary tools, you can trace larger patterns in your life, whether it’s how you’re sleeping, what you’re eating, or how much exercise you’re getting – and note how these practices are affecting your work and productivity.
“While I may not know the exact number of steps I took today, I know how I did compared with yesterday or last week, and that's real data I can use,” neurosurgeon and medical journalist Sanjay Gupta writes on Oprah.com. “But don't get swept up in trying to track everything—you'll drive yourself crazy.”
Gupta suggests logging data with any number of different apps, which is easy to access from a smartphone while on the job. Free software tools can link data to various actions, such as automatically entering it into a spreadsheet, posting achievements on Facebook, or sending texts when you’re falling short of goals. “You might get an email telling you that you're most active on Wednesdays, or that your mood is usually better on a Sunday—and how all that relates to your music listening history or social media activity,” David Nield writes in Popular Science.
Logging data can also help establish healthier patterns. The mind and body respond more readily to routines. But for many, just staying on top of your habits can be helpful enough. Life can move so quickly, days, weeks, months can sweep past in a blur, leading to the creeping worry you’re losing track of yourself. And this kind of stress can actually lead to physical health problems of their own. “So maybe the real benefit behind all those numbers is simple reassurance,” Jessica Ruane writes for WearableZone. “Fitness data offers us hard evidence that our bodies are functioning; we're still alive and well, and everything is OK.”
If weight loss is your goal, experts say it comes to the basic equation of eating fewer calories than you exercise off. So keeping track of calorie expenditure is fundamental—especially important in a work environment where free snacks or client lunches are the norm. Heart monitors can help by keeping you in the proper fat-burning zone—generally 60 percent of maximum capacity. Those pushing to lose weight more quickly sometimes separate their regular steps from their exercise steps to boost their regimen. If separating the two becomes too complicated, set higher goals, such as 20,000 steps a day.
Wearable devices are just one more way to help you keep up in a fast-moving world. The data they gather puts you one more step further toward achieving your activity goals.
Information received through VSP Vision Care channels is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, medical recommendations, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your eye doctor, physician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.