Could a Fitness Tracker Boost Your Heart Health?
You know exercise is heart smart and good for you. But do you really know how much physical activity you’re getting? And how can you get more, day in and day out, for your heart health? A fitness tracker may help.
Studies show that consistently using a fitness tracker—a device that tracks your movement, such as a traditional pedometer or other wearable device, or a smartphone app—can increase your steps per day by more than a mile, especially if you establish a heart-smart daily goal.
“Fitness trackers are a great tool for heart health,” says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Seth Martin, M.D., M.H.S. “Being more active and changing your habits is important, but it can be difficult. Tracking likely helps a lot of people when combined with a clear goal to shoot for.”
The Heart-Smart Power of a Fitness Tracker
Having an objective daily record can open people’s eyes to how little exercise they’re getting, Martin says, which can recalibrate their mindset and become an incentive. People find ways to incorporate more activity into their day, whether it’s dedicated walking or gym time, walking during meetings or personal calls, or simply taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
“It gives people information and empowers them to start making changes for heart health,” Martin says. “And often, their activity level was not something they were paying attention to before they started tracking.”
Fitness Trackers: Where to Start, How to Stick with It
Try a few pedometers, smartphone tracking apps or wearable devices, until you find one that’s comfortable for you and your budget, Martin suggests. Next steps once you’ve made a match:
- Use the tracker consistently, every day.
- Set a goal. The most common figure is 10,000 steps per day but check with your doctor. If that is unrealistic or unhealthy, he or she can suggest an individualized plan, such as doubling your 2,000 steps to 4,000.
- Find activities you enjoy that also fit into your daily life and can be sustained over the long-term.
- Recruit friends and family to use trackers as well. It can create a social support network and even foster a sense of competition.
- Be accountable. Check your numbers every day and share them with your doctor at your next appointment.
Follow those five tips, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier lifestyle — and a healthier heart.
The Future of Fitness Trackers
Be ready, too, as doctors learn and introduce even better ways to use these devices. In the mActive study, a randomized clinical trial, Martin and his Johns Hopkins colleagues tested an automated, real-time, personalized program that sent coaching text messages to cardiology patients based on data from a wearable device paired with their phone. Over the short term, this coaching system helped increase step counts by more than a mile a day beyond tracking alone.
Martin notes that collaborating researchers have tested the mActive program in other patients in NIH-funded research of patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension, where an increase in physical activity was also observed. He hopes to see the system more widely validate and used as part of routine clinical care.
Currently, with support from the American Heart Association, Martin and colleagues are incorporating the mActive automated physical activity coaching into a virtual cardiac rehabilitation program for patients who have had cardiovascular events.
“I think technology can be a very powerful tool to get people moving more,” says Martin.