The science shows that we need to move more to be healthy, but how much is enough and how do we measure our movement? Wearables and fitness trackers measure everything from steps to heart rate to help keep us on our toes.
August 6, 2021
They say that sitting is the new smoking. We spend countless hours in front of devices working, playing, watching, and scrolling. This was true prior to COVID-19 but has become much more prevalent since. Moving your body is good for your muscles (including your heart) and your mind (think increased endorphins, decreased cortisol). Fortunately, you don’t have to become an ultramarathon runner to benefit from movement. Identifying an activity you enjoy and making the time to actually do it works perfectly.
There is some debate, however, about how many steps or how many minutes of exercise per day are needed to benefit your health. In fact, articles in JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Network studied the health benefits of taking a certain number of steps a day. The authors found that the popular number of 10,000 steps is not necessarily required. The two studies found that between 7,500 and 8,000 steps per day provided the best health benefits, but as few as 4,400 steps helped increase longevity. Reducing the 10,000 step number helps make meeting the goal a little more achievable.
With all the research reported in the scientific literature, we can agree that movement, as simple as walking or standing, provides health benefits. How do we quantify our goals or measure our progress? Fortunately, there are plenty of fitness trackers to help. Each range in functionality and features can be selected based on activity, goals, and personal preference.
Aside from using an app on your smartphone, Fitbit (NYSE: FIT) is one of the best-known activity trackers. It has evolved since it started as literally a little bit that you stuck in your pocket to monitor your activity. Now it comes in sleek and decorative bands and tracks more than just your steps. The current Fitbit monitors your heart rate and your sleep, and some even provide reporting to share with your physician.
Fitbit is not alone. Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN), originally known for its GPS and mapping devices, has condensed its navigation technology into a fitness tracker. Its applications range across a variety of activities and are used by both professional and novice athletes. It also monitors heart rate, sleep, and, of course, GPS location. While it has simple activity monitors, Garmin has also expanded into the realm of smartwatches, thus providing a wide range of products for different needs. Not to be outdone, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) recently introduced the Halo Band fitness tracker to track steps, heart rate, and sleep.
Smartwatches are much more all-encompassing and do more than just monitor your health. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has been moving into the health care market since it introduced the iPhone and has targeted much of its effort into the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch monitors a variety of exercise activities and steps and includes monitoring of heart rate, heartbeat irregularities, and maximum oxygen volume in addition to non-health features such as phone, text, and email. Similarly, Samsung’s Galaxy smartwatch tracks exercise, number of steps, and sleep as well as other features you’d find on its phones.
Many of these fitness tracking devices come with apps and/or software to help you analyze your activity, both for yourself and to share with your physician. For some people, simply having a band on their wrist is enough of a reminder to move. Others need more motivation and encouragement. In this broad market, there seems to be something for every type of fitness advocate, including those that find exercising challenging.
While there are a plethora of fitness tracking devices on the market from a variety of different manufacturers, including many not mentioned in this article, this is not intended to be a product review. Rather, I am simply introducing the idea of fitness tracking and some of the companies targeting this market. The point to emphasize is that these trackers are designed to encourage us to move more. Even if we purchase one but it ends up in a drawer instead of on our bodies, the business will ultimately fail. Companies in this space are successful if they produce products that help us be successful — devices that remind and motivate us to get moving. As consumers we can choose which tracker best fits our lifestyle and goals. As investors in this space, I recommend looking for businesses with products that people use and love as they will be the businesses that grow. Fortunately, as with the devices themselves, we have many options from which to choose.
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