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Can fitness trackers cause unnecessary anxiety?



Can fitness trackers cause unnecessary anxiety?

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Wearable tech has made considerable advancements but is it leading to information overload?

Wearable technology has advanced significantly and is no longer limited to fitness enthusiasts counting steps. Biometrics, such as ECG readings, sleep quality reports, and blood oxygen saturation are now available with wearable tech. With such tech advancements, are users experiencing information overload and can fitness trackers cause anxiety?

Some may argue that wearables provide helpful monitoring. Consider this: during the pandemic, sales of pulse oximeters increased. The simple-to-use devices relieved those who wanted to measure their oxygen levels. Even COVID patients like Chris Cuomo and Andy Cohen used pulse oximeters at home while recovering. Cohen even urged people to grab Tylenol and a pulse oximeter in 2020.

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Wearable technology is not a passing fad, but rather a growing market. The American College of Sports Medicine ranked wearable tech as the top fitness trend for 2022. In 2020, Pew Research Center reported that 1 in 5 Americans use a smartwatch or fitness tracker. Movano is even conducting clinical trials with radio-frequency enabled tech and developing algorithms to include medical data, like non-invasive glucose monitoring and cuffless blood pressure in its product offerings.

While the intent of fitness trackers is to help keep a user accountable and informed, it’s important that people process the data in a positive way – and with professional support. As people embark on a fitness journey, they can experience disappointment or worry, causing themselves anxiety over their health metrics as shown by fitness trackers, says one fitness expert. 

“I am an advocate for people using trackers in combination with having the advice of a health coach or personal trainer, because a coach has the interpersonal skills necessary to help reframe negative feelings and worry into positive action steps,” says Samantha Clayton, OLY, M.S., CPT, Vice President Sports Performance and Fitness Education at Herbalife Nutrition. 

Individuals who are prone to anxiety, according to Clayton, should consider how anxiety manifests for them and use it as a deciding factor in determining whether a tracker will be harmful or beneficial.

“If you are triggered by the feeling that tracker is another job to stay on top of that will cause you stress, then it may not be the best tool for your journey. However, if you see the tracker for what it is designed for, which is to provide you with important data to help you succeed, then the anxiety may be less. I tell people to use a tracker as a guide,” Clayton tells Athletech News. 

“Don’t make what you read on the tracker the most important part of your journey– your healthy actions and happiness are what creates your success. Just like using a scale for body weight can be an example of a tool that for some is helpful and others truly harmful, it’s understandable why people may get different emotional responses from the data received from wearable trackers. Again, this is where having a coach comes in who can tell you positive tips on why the scale may be higher and that body composition is more important,” Clayton advises.

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Overall, Clayton believes that people should have access to health monitoring because having data readily available allows them to take control of their health. She believes it empowers people to strive for ultimate well-being. 

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“With that said, it is essential that education is an integral part of this push forward into the digital personal wellness space. Data, when explained in the correct context, can be empowering and lead to positive changes, but when misrepresented or misinterpreted, can cause anxiety, fear, or lead to drastic, unhealthy responses,” Clayton adds.

Ultimately, Clayton believes that wearable tech users will benefit from the assistance of a professional.

“I worry that if people cut out the human touch of professionals or their wellness support system it may have a long-term negative consequence for their health. The accuracy of technology is not always perfect, and science is ever-changing as we learn new information, which is why I believe trackers should not be the only thing a person relies upon,” Clayton explains.

“The perfect balance is to take control of your health and use the tools/trackers that feel right for your journey—they should make you push forward and embrace positive behaviors. If they make you feel overwhelmed, unworthy, or depressed, consider another way to keep yourself accountable. Most importantly the power of community, education and professional guidance should be used in combination with your trackers with the ultimate guide being your personal health care provider,” Clayton tells us.

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