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Is Fitness Tech Making Us Less Healthy?

In a recent article by Fitt Insider, an online newsletter and community for fitness professionals, the idea is that health optimization through the use of fitness technology such as apps, Oura Smart Ring, Fitbit, or even your average smartphone may be making us less healthy as a society. According to the article, the global fitness tracker market is expected to reach $139 Billion by 2028. In addition, over 350,000 fitness apps worldwide account for an additional $106 Billion.

As technology improves, people are routinely building health optimization into their day, which is generally a good thing until health optimization turns into an obsession. With the use of this technology, many people are creating a routine that is so rigid that if they don’t stick to it, they are feeling extreme guilt and stress, which is counter to the purpose of tracking. Add in social media where “influencers” are filtered, steroided, nipped, and tucked unattainable ideal is created. All of which lead to anxiety and depression. So, instead of helping the average person to live a long, healthy life of well-being and happiness, a culture of beautiful-at-any-cost is being created.

As previously mentioned, over-tracking is caused when optimization turns into obsession. While some “optimization” is positive, the pursuit of the perfect routine at the expense of everything else may actually decrease one’s quality of sleep, cause anxiety and lead to generally unhealthy behavior. (Yours truly actually turned off the activity reminders on my Fitbit because they were stressing me out!)
Here are a few of the side effects caused by the over-optimization of fitness tech:

Orthosomnia: An obsessive pursuit of optimal sleep through the use of a fitness tracker leading to insomnia.

Nocebo effect: Where a placebo is a harmless remedy prescribed for a positive psychological effect rather than physiological, a nocebo effect is a feeling of illness or being unwell due to a negative reading, such as a metric that doesn’t meet the goal on your smartwatch.

Dependency: Compulsively taking action to achieve rewards or complete goals, such as taking a step challenge to an unhealthy level and causing the activity to no longer be enjoyed.

In addition, the negative readings of an app or wearable technology are often inaccurate and should not be taken as completely true. For example, your smartwatch may be too loose to produce an accurate reading, or a sensor may be failing. This tech should simply be used to assist you in achieving your fitness goals and should not be followed blindly.

Fitness trackers and apps can be useful tools in achieving our fitness goals. They are intended to help us develop healthy habits by reminding us of tasks that we set, such as drinking water or going for a walk. They can also help us count calories, track our food intake, measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels, and may even help warn us of an impending heart attack. A negative side to fitness technology is when well-intentioned tracking leads to an obsession that may adversely rule our lives and take good habits too far. This obsession may falsely lead us to believe we are ill or even that we are bad or lazy for not achieving every goal. Ultimately this negativity can lead to stress which studies have shown to be one of the leading causes of poor health — the exact opposite of what these devices are intended to do.

At the end of the day, everything comes back to basic, positive lifestyle habits such as eating a nutritious diet made up of whole foods and consisting mostly of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, and quality protein sources. Exercise is also a must and should be comprised of strength training, cardio-respiratory exercise, and mobility work. Stress management should also be a priority, and things such as mindfulness meditation and time spent in nature should be employed. Last, an adequate amount of quality sleep is not just a luxury but an absolute necessity and is at least as important as the other things mentioned.