Beyond the Fitbit: How Wearable Technology Can Help You

by Kevin Ackerman, Staples® Contributing Writer

The conflict of man versus machine has fueled many sci-fi masterpieces, but in the real world, technology helps people do amazing things. And in particular, wearable devices enhance our abilities and insights in ways that weren’t even imaginable just a few years ago. Here are a few everyday uses for wearable technology and how they can make you thrive.

Moving More

According to research by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, sitting is the new smoking, with hours spent being sedentary leading to everything from obesity to cancer. Thankfully, wearable motion-tracking devices are great at reminding us to stand up, stretch and take a walk.

“I wear my Polar Loop all day,” says Abby Fournier, a 28-year-old marketing assistant from Livonia, MI, who spends much of her day typing away at her desk. “It helps me realize when I’ve been sitting too long. It even gives me inactivity alerts that yell at me when I've sat for more than an hour, which happens pretty often since I have a 9-to-5 desk job.”

This reminder is a standard feature on many fitness trackers, but it’s an important one, because the more we get drawn into our work, favorite television shows or books, the fewer hours we spend moving around, let alone exercising. The gentle nudge these wearable devices give are sometimes all we need to get moving again.

Counting Steps

Time and again, health researchers have proven that walking is one of the best and easiest ways to get healthy. But how many daily steps are enough to trim your waistline and stave off depression, and how many steps do you think you already take?

Digital pedometers are core features built into many fitness-tracking wearables. Some can connect to popular Apple® iPhone apps like Strava and MapMyRun, which can help you improve your fitness by measuring your daily number of steps, and challenging you to take more.

But to answer the question, the National Institute for Health says that walking fewer than 5,000 steps per day means you have a sedentary lifestyle, while taking more than 10,000 will qualify you as “active.” And with the help of wearable fitness trackers, people have been known to take more than 12,500 steps regularly, the point where pounds can start to melt away.

Losing Weight

When it comes to losing weight, burning calories is only half the equation — the other half is watching what you eat. Wearables like the Jawbone UP help by combining motion data gathered by this sensor-laden wristband with a cloud-based insight engine that can even recommend meals to help keep you fueled, while you cut your weight.

For example, when the wristband detects that you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, the device’s accompanying Android™ and iOS app may know (based on past, similar instances) that you tend to be less active the next day. So it will recommend a high-protein breakfast instead of a meal of harder-to-digest carbohydrates and sugars. While that may sound complex, it’s all served up simply and clearly through the smartphone app, resulting in an expert-fueled simplification of your diet and lifestyle that can lead to fewer inches on your waistline.

Looking Up

You might think that adding another screen to your already busy digital life would be unhealthy, but wearable technology can improve your posture and your connection with the world. “Text neck,” also known as cervicalgia, is the strain of upper vertebrae due to constantly looking down at a mobile phone. Using a smart watch can reduce this strain, because wearers typically raise their arm to look at wrist-worn displays versus lowering their head when glancing at a phone. In this way, these everyday uses of wearable technology can help you engage more with your surroundings.

“What we're really trying to achieve is the idea of freedom from your phone,” says David Ng, a wearable product manager for Samsung®. Recently, he was able to enjoy the world whirring past while on a cab ride to an airport — and was still alerted to a gate change for his flight without having to looking at his phone. Instead, the notification came on his smart watch. ”It really frees you up to do other things, like being more engaged in a conversation at lunch with your friend or being able to wait an extra 15 minutes before you get in that cab.”

Capturing the Moment

With today's smartphones, we have easier access to cameras than ever before. However, this means people spend more time capturing the moment instead of enjoying it. Action cameras like the Garmin Virb let people go hands free with their cameras, so they can get the most out of their experiences, while managing to save them for later. The Virb can be mounted to objects — like surfboards, dashboards or helmets — so users can get the most out of the camera’s 1080p video recording capabilities. And with GPS-tagging and Wi-Fi connecting features, the camera makes sharing memories faster and easier than ever before.

But as technology continues to improve, truly wearable cameras are getting better and less obtrusive by the day. Resembling sunglasses, Pivothead cameras give first-person perspective to users’ movies, capturing scenes through video, rapid-burst photography and even time-lapse shots — with wind-resistant audio. The resulting videos are almost better than actually being there. Almost.

Keeping Calm

The heart is a muscle, and while working it can be beneficial to your health, so can resting it. Heart rate monitors are good for more than just measuring exertion — they can also keep track of resting heart rate, a key statistic when it comes to hypertension and heart disease. Strapless heart rate monitors make checking your pulse as easy as checking the time. With an electrocardiogram sensor, it’s as accurate as a doctor’s office, but with basic watch functionality like a stopwatch and a timer, it’s useful in everyday settings, too.

So, from breakfast until bedtime, wearables can not only track your health, but improve the way you go about your day.

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