News & Insights 20 January 2022

Be mindful when interpreting your fitness tracker data

Fitness trackers are becoming increasingly popular, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many people have made a conscious decision to care more about their health. Various models of wearable fitness trackers occupied four of the top 10 most popular items in this year’s Black Friday sales. If you are thinking of following the crowd, or perhaps you already own the latest wearable gadget, it is vital to consider the context behind the data you are collecting by using it – something which many fitness trackers fail to provide.

Most wearable fitness trackers provide daily ‘goals’, for example, the Apple watch urges users to ‘close their rings’ for each day, each of which are related to certain activity-based goals. These features are designed with the intention to motivate us to move more, but is there actually any scientific rationale to justify these goals? A great example of this that most people will be familiar with is the10,000 steps a day goal. This is a completely arbitrary number that originates from a successful marketing campaign in the mid-1960’s and does not have any scientific explanation to support it, despite how widely it is promoted. This example demonstrates how it is important to examine the science behind daily goals set for you by your wearable device.

Consistent activity tracking can become addictive, yet the lack of context behind the data is potentially causing more harm to our health than good. Research suggests that some individuals can become obsessed with their data and numbers, which may lead to negative long-term psychological impacts, despite the fact these numbers may not always be accurate. When a daily goal is not met, it can be disheartening, and feel like a failure, this is known as the Nocebo effect. So, it is important to remember that physical activity looks different to every individual, and that any progress is progress, even if you aren’t at the same stage as other people.

With all this in mind, it is important for data from fitness trackers to be contextualised. If you have achieved 20 minutes activity in one week, and 30 minutes the next week, this improvement deserves to be celebrated. Without support and guidance, it is easy to feel like small improvements don’t matter. However, the opposite is true, every move we make matters, no matter how small it may seem. It is also important to incorporate rest if you are feeling unwell, or lacking in energy, but this is something that is often viewed as ‘lazy,’ particularly as wearable data will not provide this context. This can create inappropriate negative associations with taking a break.

The true value of wearable data comes from accurate analysis and interpretation, which provides appropriate context and insight into your physical activity and how this translates into your day-to-day life. At KiActiv® we understand the importance of expressing your health data in an accessible format that enables you to get the most out of this information. Our digital platform displays your physical activity data within the context of your own condition, providing personalised and meaningful insight that commercial fitness trackers can’t. By supporting participants with a Mentor, we help you understand the context behind your data, and recognise your progress, giving you the confidence to self-manage your own physical activity in the future. We understand physical activity is multidimensional and it’s important to focus on movement you enjoy, not just what the numbers are saying on a screen, to sustain an active lifestyle.

The KiActiv® Team