Skip to content

We’re all cyborgs now: What your fitness trackers are really telling you

6 minute read
Young man managing his health with a fitness tracker

Fitness trackers are more popular than ever. But are you getting the most out of your wearable technology? Here's what you need to know.

The rise of the fitness tracker

Fitness trackers have taken the Australian market by storm, with more than half of us sporting a wearable device.

The key to getting the most out of your device is knowing exactly what that little band is trying to tell you.

BMI, calories, heart rate, sleep activity – we decode the most common terms so you can create realistic and achievable fitness goals.

BMI

Your body mass index (BMI) essentially calculates whether you are in a healthy weight range based on your weight and height. Knowing your BMI can help you determine a healthy weight loss target leading to improved health and wellbeing.

To calculate your BMI, simply divide your body weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in metres). For example, if Jack weighs 75kg and is 1.75m tall, his BMI is 75 / (1.75 x 1.75) = 24.5.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare defines BMI average ranges for adults as:

BMI | Weight Status Below 18.5 - Underweight 18.5 – 24.9 - Normal and Healthy Weight 25.0 – 29.9 - Overweight 30.0 and Above - Obese

When checking your BMI, remember that it does have limitations and is only an estimate. It does not take into account gender, age, ethnicity and body composition.

Happy, young couple using technology to track their fitness

Kilojoule counting: Watching your energy intake and expenditure

A kilojoule (or calorie) – is a unit of energy. We use energy through physical activity, and we consume energy through our food and drinks. It is important to try and balance the amount of energy in with the energy out. For weight loss, we need to reduce the amount of energy we are consuming, and increase the amount of planned and incidental physical activity we do. The more energy you burn, the closer you get to your weight-loss goals. Consume too much energy and your body will store it as fat, leading to weight gain.

Counting kilojoules can help you determine appropriate meal portions and weight management goals. For an approximate figure, the average Australian requires a daily intake of 8,700kJ per day to maintain their weight; however, this depends on other factors such as your age and how active you are. To get specific details on what your daily energy intake should look like, use a calculator like the one provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Steps

To stay healthy, we need to move. Most fitness trackers feature a pedometer which counts your steps – enabling you to create new goals and improve your daily exercise. You should try to hit at least 10,000 steps every day, as recommended by the Australian Heart Foundation. You can increase this target to achieve your personal fitness goals.

You should try to hit at least 10,000 steps every day.

Sleep monitoring

Sleep is essential to health and wellbeing. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours of shut-eye. Fitness trackers will monitor your sleep activity and help you identify disturbances like snoring, bright lights, pressures of deadlines and anything else that may be affecting you. Emfit QS is a popular app used by athletes which monitors how much light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep you get (REM is when your mind recovers and takes in the information you have absorbed during the day).

Young woman checking her vital signs using her fitness tracker

Resting heart rate

Your heart rate says a lot about your cardiac health, such as whether you suffer from dizziness, chest pain, tachycardia or other issues. The healthier your heart, the greater your chance at a longer life. Generally, a resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. However, a fit and active person’s heart rate may be even lower.

Many fitness trackers feature a resting heart rate monitor. This can help you monitor changes in your heart rate. What’s more, some fitness trackers have helped people to identify health problems before they led to something more critical.

Not all heart rate monitors are accurate, so it’s worth getting a second opinion if you are looking for a precise measurement.

Breath training

Breath training has been shown to improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and improve physical and mental health.

There are many breath-training techniques out there, and some fitness trackers include exercises to help oxygenate your blood and improve mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. By measuring the vibrations of your inhales and exhales, wearables like Spire and Atlas can measure your maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) to boost your cardiac fitness and athletic endurance. When you are calm, you usually take between 6 and 12 breaths per minute, and when you are tense, it’s between 18 and 24 (fast and erratic).

Limitations of trackers

Although there are a lot of fitness trackers to choose from, they all come with some limitations and are not guaranteed to be 100% accurate. Fourteen fitness trackers were tried and tested at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Sydney University in 2016. Five of them were unable to measure active heart rate correctly.

Heart rate can become skewed depending on whether its measured on a wrist or chest monitor and whether a person has a pacemaker. Steps in GPS trackers do not always show correctly as they can’t be measured on the spot or, in some instances, when climbing a spiral staircase and distance can’t be calculated.

If you’re keen to get the most out of your fitness tracker, it’s important to understand what it’s trying to tell you. Remember it’s not just technology alone that will enable you to achieve your goals, you need to be responsible and take control of your health.

To find out more about how technology can help with keeping your health in check, read 3 apps that are more fact than fad.

See all articles

Articles you might also like

Grandma’s getting a Fitbit – the trend that could save her life

Wearablables, like Fitbits can make life easier for Grandma.

The future of tattoos: tracking your health, paying your bills

From ID chips to health sensors, wearable tattoos are here.

The A to Z of health terms

We've simplified some of the most common health terms.

Grandma’s getting a Fitbit – the trend that could save her life

Wearablables, like Fitbits can make life easier for Grandma.

The future of tattoos: tracking your health, paying your bills

From ID chips to health sensors, wearable tattoos are here.

The A to Z of health terms

We've simplified some of the most common health terms.