Sunday, 12 June 2016

The 'NEAT' thing about Fitness Trackers

Fitbit Charge HR Blog

I recently bought myself a wearable fitness tracker as a means of tracking my day to day activity levels and monitor my sleeping patterns. If I'm completely honest I'm still, roughly a month into owning and using the device, finding out how to operate and interpret all of the functions and data, but am nevertheless enjoying my newfound ability to self-quantify.

Many of you will own a fitness tracker and ay already have a few years on me in terms of experience in their use. You might use yours to count your steps, give you an idea of calories burned during exercise or keep an eye on your heart rate. Each tracker on the market seems to have its own pros and cons but I opted for the Fitbit Charge HR. This device is in the mid to upper price range (I paid around £100 on Amazon) and reviews of its functionality are pretty damn good.

From what I can tell, I’m currently able to track and access the following information:

  • Steps
  • Heart rate
  • Distance travelled
  • Sleep patterns
  • Calorie burn
  • Hourly activity
  • Floors climbed

I’m still a bit stumped as to why Fitbit think that people have any interest or use in knowing how many floors they’ve climbed. I have a sneaking suspicion that they wanted a certain number of functions and were scrambling around trying to find a cheap way to add one last one in! Apparently the device has an inbuilt altimeter sensor which detects changes in elevation and counts one floor for every 10 feet elevation gain.

Fitbit floors climbed
Now, I’m an active person and ensure that I schedule in timeslots each week for structured exercise. I’m fortunate in the sense that I work at a gym and therefore find it pretty convenient to bang out a workout either before, between or after seeing my clients. But outside of these dedicated training sessions what I’m also very aware of is something called my non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This is essentially the energy I expend for everything that I do aside from dedicated exercise such as working out at the gym, powerwalking or playing football. As we all know, our ability to create and maintain a healthy, lean and robust physique is to a great degree determined by the energy that we expend, in that if we consume fewer calories than we consume, we’re more likely to limit unwanted body fat.

In my opinion, NEAT is a really important and often underexplored consideration in our quest for health and fitness. Have a think about the healthiest people you know. No, not the strongest lifters in the weights room or even the quickest runners over 100m. I’m talking about the healthiest people who you’d imagine will live the longest. If I do this I’m picturing people who partake in not just high intensity and physically demanding activities but also lots of low intensity, low impact movement. This could be using a bicycle to travel short distances or time spent gardening or home DIY.

When I look at the data that my new Fitbit churns out I don’t really take it as gospel. While it actually seems to be quite accurate in some respects, such as counting my steps when I walk on a treadmill, it’s definitely a long way off in others, like my daily calorie burn. I mention the calorie burn as I’m in no way confident that my device can possibly have a handle on my caloric energy expenditure as it doesn’t have the ability, for example, to consider the thermogenic effect of the foods that I eat, or differentiate between the intensity of two weightlifting exercise sessions. I’m not sure it would even recognise a long bike ride due to the lack of movement if worn, as it’s intended, on the wrist.

So, I personally use my device to help me compare step counts from one day to the next, in full appreciation that it won’t be 100% accurate. Nevertheless I feel that it certainly motivates me to keep moving and makes me more aware of periods of inactivity. I’ve been known to jokingly proclaim that ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Whilst I usually say this with a smile on my face, it’s actually a problem that’s very much at the forefront of my consciousness. By ensuring that we minimise the time we spend sitting, and increasing our NEAT through what many would consider negligible small movements and fidgeting, we can genuinely make a big impact on our health. The benefits of standing more for improvements in posture alone should be enough to convince us to be more mindful of the time we spend on our bums. But the added body composition and fat loss advantages make it a total no-brainer.

I’m sure I’ll cover more on this subject in future blog posts but I hope that this short introduction to the subject is enough to at least make you think.



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