Got yourself a fitness tracker for Christmas but don't know how to use it or what all the data means? You're not alone, but don't let that put you off. While we all have those great intentions come January and tell ourselves This is the year I finally get fit, when it comes down to it, motivating ourselves can be hard. But thanks to the many fitness trackers on the market, we now have a great way to help us know just how many calories we eat every day, how much sleep we get, and how many steps we've taken. And it can be just what we need to keep going. However, just how useful is all this data?
We spoke to three experts, sleep practitioner James Wilson of The Sleep Geek on, you guessed it, tracking your sleep; personal trainer Carly Tierney, health and fitness expert for DW Fitness Clubs, on how to work out better according to your data, and Matt Plowman from Cardiff Sports Nutrition on the nutritional info we should be taking notice of. There were plenty of insights that we'd never known before, so keep scrolling to find out just how to use your fitness tracker and what it all means…
Anyone will tell you that when you want to lose weight, the thing that will make the biggest difference is what you eat. So if you're already tracking your calorie intake but you're not seeing any changes on the scales, what should you do? Nutrition adviser Plowman said there's one thing you need to consider when tracking that data: macros.
If you're confused, not to worry. Macros essentially mean understanding what you're eating in terms of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. "When you measure your macros correctly, you're ensuring your body becomes more effective at burning fat and building lean muscle," says Plowman. "That's because 10 calories of fat versus 10 calories of carbohydrates can have completely different effects on your body."
The other trick is to make sure you actually record everything you eat and don't shy away from putting in the bad stuff (even if you know it takes you over your daily recommended allowance), as Plowman attests. "Far too often, people are afraid to input what they have actually eaten for fear of being judged, yet if you [log] everything you are able to see in plain sight where changes should be made, how much you have burned off and if you have room to increase your intake."
No more lying about that extra slice of cheesecake then.
Sleep. It's been a buzzword for the past few years or so. Ariana Huffington even wrote a whole book dedicated to the subject. As for the UK, over a third of us have admitted to not getting enough sleep. So will tracking our sleep cycle change anything? In a word, no. According to Wilson, tracking how you sleep can have the counter effect, "If you’re the sort of person that likes tracking stuff, then that's fine. But for others, tracking your sleep can feed into already high levels of anxiety, which in turn can affect how well you sleep."
Wilson also pointed out that classic fitness trackers aren't medical sleep trackers, so will only give you an overarching understanding of your cycle, which isn't enough detail to go on. But what happens if you wake up a lot in the night—shouldn't you act on that? "We do wake up in the night, more times than we think," reveals Wilson. "We come out, we check the environment, and if there aren't any changes we go straight back into the sleep cycle again."
If you are trying to track your sleep, then Wilson advises to see how you feel during the day and keep a diary. But the best piece of advice Wilson offered up to anyone experiencing sleep problems? "If you're a light sleeper, then the best thing you can do is accept it. The more you fight it and try to get yourself to sleep, the harder it will be."
Struggling to sleep every night? Try this exercise that will help you fall asleep in under a minute.
Whatever your goal when it comes to exercise— meeting your abs, reaching 10,000 steps per day, or completing a 10k—the fitness tracker can really help you understand what you need to do to get in shape. If you're falling short on your steps goal, you know to hop off the bus a stop earlier or walk that escalator.
For example, if you've been tracking your workouts and you realise that over the course of a week you only have time to exercise for two hours, then you need to know what exercises will work the best for you in that time period. In other words, you want to get the most bang for your buck.
Personal trainer Tierney suggests that by using the data from your tracker you can then decide what kind of exercises you should be doing to see results. "If someone is wanting to lose weight and only has two hours to spend in the gym per week, they’d benefit from understanding which activities will burn the most calories and will be able to make their workouts high intensity for maximum result," she says.
For example, Tierney recommends that even doing just 15 minutes per day of jump squats, star jumps and kettlebell swings will help burn fat and tone. Essentially, you want to look for high-intensity interval training or Tabata-style exercises that will raise your heart rate on your tracker in the shortest period of time, these are the workouts that will get you results fast.
However, Tierney is keen to stress that a fitness tracker isn't a quick fix: "Sure, it can be beneficial in that it provides the user with a reality check regarding their current activity levels. I am concerned, however, that some people still regard [fitness trackers] as a magical shortcut to reach their fitness goals, which it is obviously not."
Opening Image: P.E.Nation