Can wearable tech make you healthy?

6/26/2017  By ThirtyPercenters

June 26, 2017

Each month, we feature a post from an employee contributor on a health topic of their choice.

Kathryn Houck, KVH Contributor*

Can wearable technology make you healthy? The answer to that question is complex and has many different facets. But, in the end it comes down to a very solid…maybe. Ultimately your fitness is dependent on your efforts to reach your fitness goals. The wearable is just along for the ride, it’s up to you to do the work.

Kathryn's wearable helps her celebrate a goal achieved: hiking the Ridge in under an hour.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of wearable fitness tech: step counters, heart rate monitors, and bike computers play an important role in my personal fitness plan. However, before you run out to buy a wearable, you should ask, “What is my goal?” Setting goals requires no technology at all and is absolutely free. While it seems simple, a goal is probably the most important piece of the fitness puzzle.

Tracking your progress is what wearable tech does best.

You need a goal that will motivate you to succeed. It should be specific and measurable so you can monitor progress. If your goal is big, daunting, or long-term, break it down into segments that can be easily tackled.

With that in mind, what do you want to work on?

eating fruits and veggies – choose how many daily servings of each and track it!
losing weight – set a weekly goal and what you will do to reach it and track it!
completing a race– find a training plan for your selected distance and track it!
walking more – decide on a distance or number of steps and track it!

Tracking your progress is what wearable tech does best. When I first heard that everyone should walk at least 10,000 steps a day I thought, “I’m pretty close to 10,000.” I walked for my breaks at work, walked my dogs, was active around the house, yard, and garden. Surely I was hitting 10,000 steps a day. Imagine my surprise when I started tracking and found I was at about 4,500 daily steps.

My first goal? 10,000 steps a day, here I come.

It only took a few small changes to hit 10,000 daily steps. I lengthened the walk at work and moved just a bit faster so it still fit on my break. I lengthened the walk with the dogs. I checked my step count early and found a way to get more steps if I was behind. Before I knew it, 10,000 steps a day was in my rearview mirror.

For some of us a wearable has an even more profound effect.

Last year, my husband received a gift of sophisticated wearable tech. When reading the instruction manual, he noticed all the things it could track: swimming, road cycling, running, hiking, mountain biking - all things he loved to do on a regular basis. But, he noted one thing he had never done - a triathlon. His new watch would track each segment of the race and the transitions. Fast forward a year and he completed a Half IRONMAN, 70.3 miles, all to see how that feature on his watch works.

Drew transitions from biking to running, in the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Victoria. (Photo by Kathryn Houck)

Most of us would not react to a new feature on our wearable that way. If you would, stop reading this and run out to buy one. The rest of us probably need to give it a bit more thought.

The second most important thing is an accountability system, made up of friends, family, and coworkers who get out there with me and walk, run, or bike. People who check in and see how my training is going, or ask what hike I did over the weekend.

We all need someone to keep us on the path from time to time. Surround yourself with those who help you pursue your goals with passion, and limit your exposure to those who will sabotage you. Trust me, there will be days you want to quit. You don’t have enough time, you are too sore – you get the idea.

On those days, a strong support system and a well-crafted goal will guide you through.

Another key for me was not letting myself get comfortable with a stagnant goal. You can have a long term goal, but break it down.  Once you hit the first segment, start thinking about setting your next goal. This way you can easily see progress over time, and progress makes us all feel good!

My next goal was proposed by my walking buddy: a half marathon. Our plan was to walk it and jog the downhill sections. We found a training plan and got started. The next year, our goal was to improve our time. My current goal is to run a 10K. I still monitor my steps to ensure they are above 10,000. In setting my next goal, I don’t want to lose my current good habits.

Now back to the wearable tech that started this conversation – should you get one? If so, which one?

First, make some broad, long-term goals. Then do some research and find the right device to help you reach them.

What are you waiting for? Go pursue your goals, with passion!

*Opinions expressed by KVH Contributors are their own. Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, Thirty Percenters does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare professional.