Drawbacks of wearable fitness trackers

The benefits of wearable fitness trackers are well-documented, but if you are not a discerning user, the drawbacks can be numerous too.

For his 30th birthday in December last year, Ranjith Shroff was gifted a wearable fitness tracker by his wife. “I was overweight by 10 kilos at that point,” he recalls. Highly motivated by his new gift, Shroff started working out daily and kept a hawk’s eye on his daily intake of calories. “I was dedicated to my regime and lost six kilos during the first two months,” he recalls. But his job as an assistant director meant frequent, lengthy travels across the world for shoots. “Initially, I used to dedicatedly carry the band with me on my travels. But every time I forgot to carry it, I found it impossible to work out. I had to know my heart rate, how many calories I was burning during the workout and my sleep pattern — it was like an addiction. So due to my frequent breaks, my weight kept fluctuating,” explains Shroff. This convinced him to give up the gadget temporarily. “I wish I was better informed and prepared before altering my lifestyle in such arbitrary fashion.”

The many health benefits of wearable fitness trackers have been well-documented. Experts explain that such gadgets motivate users to remain physically active. But users should remain equally aware of the drawbacks of relying on them too much, they warn. Sucheta Pal, a zumba education specialist and master trainer for zumba, uses the term ‘techorexia’ to explain how people get addicted to their wearables at the expense of actually enjoying the workout. “A friend was into outdoor running but instead of enjoying his runs and the outdoor view, he became quite obsessed with his wristband and started competing with himself to better his number of steps. But that said, these wearables are a brilliant invention,” she explains.

So what should you keep in mind before getting strapped to a wearable fitness tracker? Experts list a few tips.


Experts point out that while the average, normal person is, ideally, supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day, there is still a difference between taking those steps and being physically active. “People can take those 10,000 steps even while doing their daily chores like walking inside their house. But this becomes misleading when users of such wearables remain satisfied with the fact that they have taken those 10,000 steps and as a result, don’t work out. A certain number of those steps must come from continuous cardiovascular activity like, for instance, cycling,” explains Venu Adhiya Hirani, a nutritionist and fitness coach.


If you enter the number of calories you have consumed in an app and then link it to your wearable, the latter will help you calculate the number of calories you have burnt. “But some apps have preset food items and its calorie count for specific foods based on the developers’ understanding,” explains Hirani. “For instance, if you have had a chappati, the app will calculate the calories based on what’s been pre-entered by the app developer. It won’t consider the kind of chappati you consumed. So while a light, phulka-like chappati will have fewer calories, a bigger one will have more calories. But the app will give the same calorie count for both.”


Pal says, “You always need to first consult a trainer who will examine you and then decide your workout regime. Such wearables are data monitoring devices. So while they will tell you how many calories to burn, how to go about doing so can only come from a health expert.” Hirani agrees. “The app won’t take note of physical ailments like heart-related issues, for instance. The impact, thus, can be disastrous.”


Celebrity trainer Praveen Tokas points out that people often feel “blind” without their gadgets, which is never a good sign. “Such users carry their devices to holidays and business conferences. And when they don’t, they don’t work out,” he explains. “Let the gadget refine your workout. Don’t let it define it.”

Tokas says that such wearables can sometimes distract clients in the middle of workouts. “And this is not a good thing, especially in the middle of a high intensity workout as people tend to fiddle with the gadget to find out how many calories they have burnt. This interferes with their heart rate and the calories they burn.”


Tokas explains that while one’s heart rate is a good indicator of the number of calories burnt during activities like aerobics, there are other, more accurate parameters to be considered during activities like weight or strength training. “In weight training, besides the heart rate, other parameters like post exercise oxygen consumption are also looked at, which only very high-end gadgets record,” he points out. There are other issues of accuracy as well. “Once I had three gadgets on my body during a workout and by the end of the day, they all gave me different numbers,” says Pal.


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