How much data is too much?

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Running purists will say that the only thing you need to be a runner is a good pair of shoes, but there is another almost ubiquitous equipment: Fitness tracker.

Wearable technology – including fitness tracker, smart watch, heart rate monitor and GPS tracking device – was rated as the first fitness trend in 2022 by the American College of sports medicine; Since its launch in 2013, it has been in the top three.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, one in five American adults often wear smart watches or fitness bracelets. This number will only increase; According to strategy analytics, global smart watch shipments increased by 47% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021.

For runners, data tracking can help you exercise, assess your current health level, track your sleep and recovery, and so on. But it can also lead to information overload, which can be overwhelming, confusing and completely distracting if you don’t use it in a healthy way.

How does data help

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(photo: Getty pictures / westend61)

Tracking activity has clear benefits: in an analysis published in the British Journal of sports medicine in December 2020, people using fitness apps and trackers recorded 1850 more steps per day than non users – and their amount of exercise still increased significantly 13 weeks later.

Angie winter, a sports psychology consultant and high-performance coach at higherechelon, said the objectivity of fitness tracking was very helpful to runners. “Fitness tracking gives you a way to see where you’re improving and hold you accountable for your hard work,” she said. Although feeling certainly has a place in running, you can learn more about your current health level by tracking the trend of your body’s response to changes in distance, pace, altitude, heart rate and some environmental conditions.

Kevin Longoria, biostrap’s clinical exercise physiologist and chief scientific officer, said it’s not just about what you do during exercise – continuous physiological data throughout the day (such as activity tracking) is also useful. “Being a habitual runner is not necessarily guaranteed to meet moderate to high-intensity physical exercise recommendations to promote health and well-being,” he said. Fitness tracker can give you a more comprehensive understanding of your health and encourage you to do more outside of each run, which will help supplement your running goals.

According to a study published in the American Medical Journal in 2019, although fitness trackers are not intrinsically linked to health benefits such as lowering blood pressure or cholesterol levels, they can improve your motivation to exercise – and science has repeatedly shown that regular exercise does make you healthier.

Winter says the fitness tracker can be used as a visual reminder. “This accountability is so strong,” she said. “As a society, we know the basics of fitness and nutrition. But it’s really hard for us to put these basics into practice. However, wearable devices give us feedback every day. It’s almost like having an exercise partner on your wrist.” The more you adapt to certain habits, the more capable you are of changing them.

“The real power of biometric data is to be able to zoom in and see the big picture,” Longoria said. “Does changing your bedtime routine help improve sleep quality? Does this new recovery have a quantifiable impact on your nighttime heart rate variability, not just” feel good “? These are great uses and examples of how wearable technology can provide insight into all aspects of training. ”

Related: can technology help you improve your nutrition – and enhance your running performance?

When to stay away from indicators

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(photo: Getty pictures / westend61)

When you are too addicted to data, problems arise, a) may or may not be accurate; And b) cannot explain the nuances of being human.

“Humans can’t just be data points,” winter said. These data points are only part of the puzzle, but they don’t take into account subjective factors, such as a stressful day at work, going out for a drink with friends the night before, or your very hard mountain exercise earlier this week. “There’s a lot of power to find out why things happen,” she said. “Algorithms can’t tell you that.

This is especially true if you do not have accurate data. A systematic review of 158 studies in 2020 found that Fitbit, apple watch and Samsung seemed to be able to accurately measure the number of steps in a laboratory environment. Heart rate measurement changes more, apple watch and Garmin are the most accurate, while Fitbit tends to be underestimated. For energy consumption, no brand is accurate. Even your GPS can be turned off; A 2016 paper in the International Journal of Geographic Information Science determined that the fitness tracker committed the crime of “systematically overestimating distance”. According to a study published in the journal Sleep in 2020, the accuracy of sleep tracking depends on the device you use, and wearable nutrition tracker is so novel that “there are few reliable methods to obtain accurate and accurate dietary and nutrition measurements”, determined by a study published in JMIR mHealth and uhealth in 2020.

“The harsh reality is that there are no regulations requiring these device manufacturers to benchmark their data output with any type of gold standard medical device, which leads to significant differences in data integrity within and between wearable technologies,” Longoria said.

In addition, once you quantify performance feedback – whether it’s accurate or not – it’s hard not to think about your performance when you re participate in the activity. A 2020 study at the University of Copenhagen concluded that activity data from wearable devices can lead to increased levels of uncertainty, fear and anxiety, as well as compulsive and dependent behavior.

If you feel like you’re turning to those feelings, “the best thing you can do is not track,” winter said. “Or maybe you only track once a week.” Longoria added that some athletes use tape to cover the tracking screen during exercise.

Biggest problem: for some people, wearable devices will make you feel that fitness is something you must do, which will actually weaken your motivation. According to a study published in the Journal of consumer research in 2016, when you start quantifying pleasant activities, it makes them feel more like work, which reduces fun and subjective well-being and participation in the activity.

“With the emergence of more sensors, devices and data, it is not uncommon to be flooded by data,” Longoria said. “Many runners know the feeling of ‘runner’s orgasm’ or ‘heart flow’ during exercise. These inner states are happy and worth pursuing themselves. If runners find themselves unable to reach these States because they are constantly pulled, go out and check their current speed or heart rate, and then it’s time to stop using the data for a while and focus on reconnecting with their inner self.”

How to build a healthy relationship with your tracker

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that fitness trackers are just a tool that runners can use. “The data is valuable, but wearable users should not blindly believe these numbers and remove their intuition from the training equation,” Longoria said. “These sensors are designed to observe and describe athletes’ reactions, not to control athletes’ training.” Track your data, but don’t see it as a blessing.

Although the tracker can provide you with some objective data points, it can be combined with self-monitoring and self reflection. “I strongly recommend writing journals next to numbers,” winter said. “Runners tend to be highly motivated people who pay more attention to and emphasize what’s wrong; this can help you look back and see what’s right – even if you don’t finish an exercise, you’re still better.” In addition, it also provides a training context that the algorithm cannot provide.

Related: write it out: a better way to record exercise

Remember: you are your best data point. You know your body better than any computer. Use wearable devices to help you train, but also pay attention to how you feel on any day, the larger pattern, and how your lifestyle affects your training. This will help you do your best.

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