Can a Fitness Tracker Save Your Life? Not Yet, but Maybe Soon

Healthy Living

July 24, 2017

It seems like only yesterday that the fitness craze of tracking your steps began with a simple pedometer. Today, there are many advanced wearable fitness trackers, such as the Apple watch, Fitbit and Garmin Fit Tracker, that can measure your heart rate and the calories that you burn through motion and steps. If you’re one of the many people who purchased a fitness tracker to help you lose weight, encouraging you to take more steps may not be the only benefit.

When you’re held accountable for your actions, you tend to make better choices. That’s the theory behind many calorie-counting apps and fitness trackers. When you can see the progress you’ve made each day, you’re more likely to continue to make smarter health choices.

Obviously, it isn’t possible to buy a fitness tracker and expect the pounds to shed off immediately. Like with any life change, a fitness tracker requires consistency and commitment in order to see results. While you’re taking note of your daily steps and calories burned, John Hopkins Medicine encourages tracker users to set personal health goals to achieve each day. Over time, moving more throughout your day can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes while simultaneously helping you lose weight.

Preventive Medicine from Your Phone

While being accountable for your daily movement and calories burned is an important step towards managing your overall health, using fitness trackers may address more immediate health concerns as well. A study at Stanford University used wearable health trackers to measure various body stats, including blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, radiation exposure and several others, which were relayed directly to a smartphone for quick access. The subject of this experiment, scientist Michael Snyder, wore seven different health trackers for approximately two years to determine the reliability of these trackers and whether they could provide a new perspective on managing health.

One of the most interesting outcomes of this study is that the fitness trackers actually helped prevent Snyder from becoming sick. After visiting an area in Massachusetts that’s known for having ticks that carry Lyme disease, Snyder noticed that his heart rate was elevated and his blood oxygen level was unusually low. He guessed that these changes could be from a tick bite and insisted on being treated with doxycycline, the typical treatment for Lyme disease. Shortly after starting the antibiotic, his body stats return to normal levels. When he returned home, he found that he had in fact tested positively for Lyme before starting the doxycycline.

The Future of Fitness Trackers

If advanced technologies are introduced to our commercial fitness trackers, it may become easier to recognize the body’s early warning signs of contracting an illness even before we feel any physical symptoms, thus allowing earlier treatment.

An article from the MIT Technology Review explained that by wearing a health tracker that streams information directly to your smartphone, users can monitor their lung fluid volume, stress levels or signs of congestive heart failure. In another study at Northwestern and Ohio State University, fitness trackers are being used to help smokers quit. If the tracker notices your wrist position and movement to identify “smoking gestures” or you’re in a location that’s likely to trigger a relapse, the device can attempt to intervene by sending you a message.

Whether you’re using a fitness tracker to learn simple statistics about your body throughout your day or you’re waiting for a more advanced form of wearable health monitor, fitness trackers may be a good choice to help manage your long-term health.