How to Educate Patients About Fitness Tracker Best Practices

Fitness trackers are getting more popular every year. In 2014, Fitbit alone sold 36.7 million trackers, with 4.8 million purchased in just the first quarter of the year. While they can be useful tools for maintaining fitness, they may also be used incorrectly or even in a harmful manner, when you consider patients with eating disorders.

So how can you educate your patients on the best uses for fitness trackers?

Start Small With Step Tracking
Most fitness trackers have a variety of features. They track steps, physical activity, heart rate and even sleep, depending on the model and its associated software. People who are just getting started on their fitness journey won’t generally need all of those extra bells and whistles. A simple step tracker is the best place to start, because it encourages healthy habits without requiring a lots of lifestyle changes.

Also, suggest that your patients make their own goals. Fitbit tends to default to 10,000 steps as the daily goal, which can be intimidating for someone who’s not active. Setting smaller fitness goals and slowly increasing them makes it easier to stick to them. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing that “Goal Met” notification at the end of the day?

Utilize the Non-Dominant Wrist
If you’re putting on your watch, chances are good you put it on the wrist of your dominant hand. Many people do the same with their fitness trackers, but studies have shown that step and activity trackers are more accurate when worn on the non-dominant hand. This is simply because the non-dominant hand moves less than the dominant one during normal activity.

Most trackers suggest wearing them on the non-dominant wrist, but it can be helpful to reiterate it for new users.

Sync to Your Body Type
Fitness trackers come pre-loaded with very generic settings. While that might work for the average person, they don’t work for everyone, so it’s important to remind your patients that they need to sync their fitness trackers to their own body type to get accurate ratings. Otherwise, your 6’5” male patient might be getting information designed for a 5’5” female, and that will definitely cause accuracy problems.

Make Use of the Tracking Apps
Almost all fitness trackers are designed to pair with a smartphone or mobile device app to help your patients keep track of their fitness goals and progress. The constant feedback they provide can help you stay motivated, and that positive reinforcement is a great way to reinforce your goals.

Most fitness trackers will come with their own app, but there are plenty of other free and paid applications that your patients can use to motivate themselves to keep up with their fitness goals.

Be Mindful of the Dangers
While fitness trackers and their associated apps are great tools to help your patients reach their goals, if used improperly, they can be dangerous, as well. Fitness trackers can actually encourage eating disorders, with heavy focuses on calorie counting, and may encourage excessive exercise that can be dangerous.

Don’t let this discourage you from suggesting or utilizing fitness trackers — just be mindful of the risks to individuals who show symptoms of eating disorders.

Sleep Trackers Are Useful Tools
According to the CDC, one in three adults isn’t getting enough sleep every night, and multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain and increase your patient’s risk of obesity and diabetes.

Fitness trackers with a sleep tracking add-on can be a great way to help you keep track of your patient’s sleep schedules and prescribe treatments if necessary to ensure they’re getting enough sleep.

Start With a Smartphone
If your patient is interested in tracking their steps or their fitness, but doesn’t want to invest in a wearable fitness tracker quite yet, encourage them to start with their smartphone. Both Android and iPhone have a variety of apps available for tracking your fitness.

MapMyWalk, for example, uses your phone’s GPS to keep track of your workout by recording how far you walk and for how long. Fitocracy allows your patients to gain levels and earn points for the activities they complete, which is perfect for the younger generation. Move, which is free on Android phones and $3 on iPhones, runs in the background and tracks activities throughout the entire day.

There’s a good chance the smartphones your patients are staring at in your waiting room are more powerful than any fitness tracker.

Go Over the Information Together
If your patient’s fitness level is a point of concern, consider using the information collected by a fitness tracker as a diagnostic tool. Go over the information with your patient and discuss anything that doesn’t seem to fit the norm. Newer generations of trackers may be designed to send that information directly to you as a medical professional, but that sort of cloud storage hasn’t been rolled out quite yet.

Fitness trackers can be one of the best tools to help your patients maintain their fitness levels, but they’re also one of the most overlooked. Encourage your patients to use their trackers regularly, but make sure they’re using them properly to get the best results.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews is an HIT journalist and blogger who writes about applications for big data and new technologies in the modern world. Her work has been featured on...

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