Tracking Tech

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Second best to possessing a superpower is having the ability to track: the amount of steps you take in a day, your heart rate, blood pressure, and calories burned.

All of the above have been made possible through wearable health tech.

Wearable health technology devices collect the user’s personal health and exercise data and present the information either on the device itself or through a phone application. Fitbits and Apple watches are among the more commonly used wearable health tech devices.

A report on the digital health ecosystem by Business Insider found that such devices are “reshaping the future of health care” by placing more control in the hands of the individual and reducing the number of visits to a doctor.

Nelda Perales, a personal trainer from Mission, uses the Scosche Rhythm to get the most out of her workouts.

The rhythm is an armband that measures heart rate, calories burned and distance. After inputting metrics — height, weight, age — into the coordinating smartphone app, it helps the user by letting them know when their heart rate is in an optimum range.

“Knowing your heart rate is knowing if you’re doing work or not,” Perales said. “You can have a full workout and if you don’t know where your heart rate is at, you can be doing nothing. Or if your heart rate is too high, it could also be hurting you.”

According to health.com, long-term strenuous activity increases an individual’s risk of a heart attack, which is why Perales said it’s so important to not overexert yourself.

The face of the rhythm changes colors during a workout to let the user know when they’re in fat-burning zone or when they’re working too hard and need to slow down. Perales said it is especially useful when in a competitive environment that can cause people to want to keep pushing themselves to “one up” their neighbor.

“If I’m in cycling class and I’m going really fast and my heart rate is too high, I’m probably going to want to keep going,” she said. “But if I have my heart rate monitor on I’ll slow down, even though the beat is faster or everyone else is going faster.”

She purchased her rhythm four years ago as a means to track how many calories she burned during a workout in order to meet her goal. These days she prefers it for the heart rate feature and wears it for various types of workouts — high intensity interval training, cycling, running, weight lifting, barre — and recommends it to all of her clients.

“Whether you’re just starting off [exercising] or are already an advanced athlete or trainer, it’s easy to use,” she said. “It’s like a streetlight. It tells you when to go, when to slow down, when to stop.”

She shares her workouts and advice through her Instagram, @sweatrgv.

According to the Fortune 500 Global company Accenture, consumer use of wearable tech rose from 9 percent to 33 percent between 2014 and 2018.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley associate dean for Student Success in the College of Health Professions, Dr. Lin Wang, predicts that the trend of wearing these devices will continue to rise and that they will grow more affordable.

“I know it will for sure have much more of an impact on how we do our daily chores and help us to regulate our daily lives,” she said. “The devices are becoming much more efficient in providing different functions.”

Wang uses a step-counting app to ensure she reaches her daily goal of 5,000 steps. As a diabetic, she said it’s crucial to keep an active lifestyle and that meeting or exceeding the 5,000 steps not only helps control her blood sugar levels, but serves another function, as well.

“Within the health and human performance department, we actually recommend regular exercise just to help with regulating the sleep cycle,” Wang said. “If I can get 1,000 or 2,000 more steps down, I get a much better sleep during the night.”

She also believes them to be a helpful tool for anyone looking to embark on a fitness journey and lose weight due to the instant feedback provided, which she said is a “great motivator.”

As the majority of research on these devices is conducted by the enterprises selling the product, Wang said further research is needed to better gauge how they can improve health and fitness.

“I would like to call for more validated research from the academic community,” Wang said. “That’s a much needed area. We need research on how to use them effectively with guidelines and for individuals to be more of an aware consumer.”