Back to articles

Fitness Trackers 102 - beyond counting steps

Adventist Health Health and Wellness, Fitness

Your smartphone is more than a communication gadget, a way to stay up to date on social media or a source of addicting games. If you use the right apps and resources, your device can become a handy tool to keep your health in check. Smartphone apps and wearable technology can help you stay healthy by maintaining a fitness routine, tracking your nutrition and keeping record of other elements of your health.

It's easy to get lost in the world of health apps, with a million of options at your fingertips and a limited knowledge of what the apps and wearables are capable of. Did you know your fitness tracker can do much more than just count steps?

Do doctors want you to use trackers and apps?

Sarah Winslow, MD

Sarah S. Winslow, MD

Research shows that 86 percent of health professionals believe that health apps and trackers can help them gain more knowledge of their patients' conditions. Fitness trackers and smartphone apps have been growing in functionality and popularity among doctors and patients.

"I really appreciate fitness trackers. I personally have a Fitbit and it keeps me motivated and accountable," says Dr. Sara Winslow, a family medicine physician at Adventist Health Medical Group's Gresham Station Family Practice and an advocate for preventive and lifestyle medicine. "I recommend them for patients because I think it keeps them motivated, especially the social aspect of challenges with friends who also have trackers, if you like a little competition. It's also great to just set personal and realistic goals for yourself. I have some patients who think they get enough activity at work or home without exercise, and the fitness tracker can verify that for them or show them on which days they should plan some extra exercise. I feel like it really makes a difference."

Use devices to track your rest, physical activity and nutrition to actively participate in providing yourself the best care possible together with your doctor. When you are better informed about your health, you understand risks and have a better idea of what direction you are heading in your daily habits. You can self-monitor your condition and stop problems such as weight gain, fatigue, sleep deprivation, and various issues caused by a sedentary lifestyle before they even appear.

There are many types of health data that you could track and show your doctor at your next appointment, such as diet, exercise, sleep patterns, blood pressure, blood sugar, hydration levels, reproductive health and subscription medication. The digital tracking and recording process is faster and more convenient since you don't have to use journals or scraps of paper. It is also reliable because a programmed computer will not forget to remind you to take your medication.

Get the most out of your health apps


If you have a chronic health condition, you may find that tracking your data through apps and wearables can help improve your compliance and discipline in following your physician's advice, which will lead to progress. For example, diabetes care can be greatly enhanced with the use of trackers and apps. Get your hands on some apps that allow you to keep your blood sugar, exercise and diet in check. According to American Diabetes Association, the use of smartphone-based monitors and applications leads to improvements in glycated hemoglobin levels and better self-management in diabetes care.

Leonard R. Bertheau, DO

Leonard R. Bertheau, DO

Dr. Leonard Bertheau, a family practice physician and diabetologist at Adventist Health Medical Group's Diabetes and Endocrine Center in Portland, recommends his patients to use diabetes-specific apps. "I really like the new smartphone monitors and I let patients know about the apps they can use to count carbs all of the time," says Dr. Bertheau. "I have seen that the wearable trackers make a big difference as well."

It's an easy task to just download the app or buy the wearable and punch some information in to get started. But if you are not going to be determined to use it on a regular basis – each time you eat, work out or go to bed – it's going to be impossible to get any results or get consistent data. Be sure to use all of the valuable features on your device and in your fitness app to make real changes in your lifestyle.

Here are some exceptional features and devices that can change the way you take care of your health and fitness:

  • Fitbit is known for supplying those who wish to start leading an active lifestyle with devices that motivate and inspire to move. However, your Fitbit wristband can do more than track your movement and physical activity. If you pair your tracker with a Fitbit mobile app, you can get much better and accurate results and performance improvement. Did you know that the Fitbit app also allows you to keep you stress in check based on your heart rate, monitor your sleep, measure your hydration, log your food intake to count calories and set up nutrition and weight goals for yourself? Spend some time discovering your new tracker and the app to get the most out of your device and make some amazing progress.
  • Omron's Project Zero Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor is an FDA approved product that has also been analyzed and validated in peer-reviewed research. The medical device looks more like a watch and is light and small but packed with data and capabilities. Besides measuring clinically accurate blood pressure, this BP monitor can also track your physical activity, sleep patterns, estimate how many calories you've burned throughout the day and remind you to take your medication and record the time when you take it so that you can improve at following your prescription. And, somehow, it can also be an actual watch and show you the date and time of the day! All of the trackable information can be shared with your physician through the Omron Connect mobile app, which can make your care more personal and allow your doctor to keep an eye on you remotely. The device will go on sale sometime in the late 2016 for around $200.
  • Charity Miles is a free fitness app on Android and iOS. It does not only help you track your miles, speed and time of your exercise - it gives you a very special reason to move more. The app donates to charity as you complete your workouts, walks and even household chores. Just start the app as you start moving, and collect money for the charity of your choice. This kind of giving will definitely give some purpose and inspiration for your active lifestyle.

To find a doctor who wants to help you live well, call us at (503) 261-6929 or request an appointment online.