How Fitness Trackers Can Help You Live Healthier

fitness tracker fitbit on the wrist of a cyclist riding a bike wearing black leggings

If you lived life by measuring every factor that affects your health, you’d find yourself paralyzed by indecision. Trying to guarantee that you get every vitamin at every meal alone would leave you standing dumbstruck at the fresh fruit section for hours. Save time by looking at bigger picture metrics and working on goals aligned with them. With this approach, fitness trackers are a great way to understand your health within those broader metrics.

As the popularity of fitness trackers has grown, so too have their uses. Many now allow you to track the two most useful fitness measurements: sleep quality and heart rate. We used to take these numbers for granted, but in reality, being aware of them is crucial to staying healthy.

Why Does Improving Your Sleep Matter?

Between an intense run and a calming meditation session, your heart rate will change to match your activity, so knowing the difference in your numbers can help you set appropriate health targets.

Sleeping is one of the most basic requirements of the human body. Making it a health goal may seem unnecessary since nobody tries to miss a good night’s sleep. Many reports, however, including a study released in 2017, tell us that short sleeping periods and poor sleep quality are prevalent among Canadian adults [1].

According to that study, about one-third of us aren’t sleeping for the recommended seven to nine hours. The reasons for this are varied, but many attribute it to our busy modern lifestyles—work reports and Facebook updates don’t write themselves. Missing out on your nightly rest, however, means more than just a grumpy morning. Lack of sleep moves us farther away from optimal physical and mental health.

In a statement published in the Oxford Journal, the Sleep Research Society and other health organizations describe in detail what a lack of good sleep can mean. For one, inadequate sleep affects your blood pressure, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and related death [2].

Short sleep also puts us at risk for weight gain. Poor sleep increases the odds of obesity 1.5 times [2]. Most importantly, at least when it comes to rehabilitation and exercise, sleep is essential in helping your body recover. Quality sleep grows muscles, heals injuries and releases human growth hormone (helping to increase strength and exercise performance) [3].

attractive white women sleeping with white tank top smiling in bed long black hair

According to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy adults should sleep between 7 to 9 hours a night. About 62 to 110 minutes of that should be dedicated to deep sleep, where your body undergoes the process of healing itself. While there is no consensus on REM sleep, experts say this stage normally takes up about 20 to 25 percent of sleep, and that seems to be a healthy amount.

Each stage of sleep plays a role in recovery, healing and the prevention of illnesses such as heart disease. That’s why many sleep trackers measure how many hours of each stage of sleep you get each night. They allow you to get a handle on how to consistently reach optimal sleep, allowing you can perform better while you’re awake.

Sleep is incredibly important, and so is making sure you’re getting the proper amount of it. But don’t race to your bed just yet. While you’re awake you should also be aware of your heart health.

What Does Your Heart Rate Tell You?

Your heart never takes a break, but it does slow down. For most of us, the average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Between an intense run and a calming meditation session, your heart rate will change to match your activity, so knowing the difference in your numbers can help you set appropriate health targets.

For resting heart rates, a rule of thumb is the lower, the better. One study done over 15 years revealed a connection between elevated resting heart rates and early death [4]. A high resting heart rate says that your heart muscles are not strong enough to pump efficiently, so it beats more often to compensate. Lowering your resting heart rate requires not only regular exercise to strengthen your heart, but of course, knowing what your rate is.

On the flip side your body also needs to regularly reach a high heart rate from exercise. By red-lining your heart rate regularly, that is reaching at least 85% of your predicted maximum heart rate, you will more efficiently strengthen the muscles of your heart—allowing it to circulate blood more efficiently. Just like a car engine benefits from occasionally being revved up, your heart muscles benefit from pumping harder during strenuous activity.

Your predicted maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So if you’re 50, your predicted max heart rate is 170, and you should aim for 145 BPM during a vigorous workout. If you’re looking for an even more precise predicted max heart rate, you can use the Tanaka formula of 207 minus the product of 0.7 multiplied by your age.

How can you make sure to reap the benefits by working out within 85% of your maximum heart rate? Use a heart rate monitor on your next run, row or bike ride.

Whether you need to work on better sleeping habits or a healthier heart, you first have to have an idea of where you stand.

fitness jog white women with long black hair running next to beach wearing pink top

How Helpful Are Sleep and Heart Rate Trackers?

When it comes to sleep and heart rate trackers, their most important benefit isn’t that they give you the most exact numbers on your key metrics, but that they get you thinking about the issue. The technology in heart rate trackers, for example, have inherent limitations when compared to more complex medical grade equipment. These limits may produce inaccurate readings.

When it comes to sleep, your tracking may also come up a little short. Sleep happens in phases and produces different levels of brain wave activity, eye movement, muscle tone, and even heart rhythm. To get the most precise information on sleep duration and quality, you’d need to be monitored during a lab sleep study.

Just like no one is expected to go to the gym with an EKG machine, most people don’t need electrodes placed on the head to make progress on their sleep. What fitness trackers do is give us an idea of where we are in our journey to better health. Fitness trackers are consumer-grade tools rather than professional equipment. They provide an estimation that you can work from during your next visit to the gym or when you slide under the covers.

Symmetrix co-owner, Dasha MacWilliam, sums up her use of fitness trackers by saying, “I definitely enjoy the game-ification of my life, it’s fun and helps me set realistic goals.” Taking that same fun, supportive attitude to your health routines can make a real difference. Ultimately, that may be the real benefit of a fitness tracker.

Tracking Goal and Getting Healthier

Getting adequate sleep benefits your health in almost every way. The same can be said for maintaining a strong heart. To get both requires a fair amount of attention on your part, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Symmetrix has been a part of the Yaletown community for more than two decades. In that time our kinesiologists and personal trainers have helped clients live a balanced life where proper exercise and rest are used to achieve optimal health.

To learn how we can help you reach your health targets contact us today.