Heart rate, calories consumed and burnt, and a monthly report of steps taken are now easily trackable via mobile apps and smart fitness gadgets. While getting that ‘ping’ on our phone confirming we’ve reached our daily goal of 10,000 steps or having pushed our working heart rate to desired levels are the encouragements some of us need to stay on track, having all that data on hand can also be overwhelming.
Fitness devices is a US$ 36.34 billion business projected to grow to US$114.36 billion by 2028. Incorporating data tracking elements into fitness regimes is a trend that’s not going away. These apps and gadgets provide us with a guide to how and how much we should exercise, but they can so create a sense of pressure that potentially pushes our bodies too hard and too far.
According to a report published by the American Heart Association, 150-minute of moderate aerobic exercise have been shown to affect our health positively. However, the same report suggests doubling the time spent exercising each week can have the opposite effect. Overtraining syndrome can lead to fatigue; not allowing the body to rest can lead to injuries and worsen existing conditions.
Rest days are just as important for fitness progress as the training itself. Blindly following advice from apps or based solely on trackers’ data may even lead to setbacks.
The same goes for apps that track calories. Many apps require users to key in their height, weight and desired goal weight. While this can provide a basic guideline for the number of calories to consume to lose or gain weight, it requires meticulous tracking of their micros and macros.
If a user forgets to enter their intake for the day or is off with the number of calories consumed, it can affect these apps’ auto-generated diet plans and calculations. In extreme cases, users face the danger of severely under or over-eating, which is particularly concerning for those with a history of eating disorders.
A 2020 Digital Health Generation study surveying teenagers found that wearable tech users can develop unhealthy obsessions by checking their fitness stats and taking the data at face value.
This points to the even more slippery slope of taking the data and guidelines from these devices as expert medical or fitness advice.
The same report finds that ‘young people reported enjoying ‘gamified’ aspects of tracking such as rewards and competition tables,’ which can lead them to ignore signals from their bodies such as fatigue or dehydration.
Tracking our vitals can give us a false sense of having a good grasp on our health and overly confident reliance on the data. Users may choose to replace doctors or other expert advice with the guidance we receive through these devices.
Luckily, some fitness apps have caught on to this growing demand for a more intimate, personalised digital experience.
Connected home gym Vitruvian Trainer + is a system that features pre-loaded workouts and a leaderboard that allows users to share their journey. The program’s founder Jon Gregory says fitness seekers are more than ever reliant on the data they can gather through their various devices than ever before. He believes this information can effectively help individuals elevate and reach their fitness goals when combined with some element of personalised training.
Vitruvian now offers the option of help from personal trainers. And it is the trainer who then analyses the data. “Your trainer can check the app and see what you have done on the days they are not training with you, and they can adjust your program accordingly,” says Gregory.
This approach lifts the stress from blindly following a digital fitness routine; some users might feel pressured to follow the rigid advice from these apps.