We know the feeling — you bought a fitness tracker, hoping that it would motivate you to exercise more. It turns out you mainly use it to get the time or be alerted to a text or phone call. Don’t worry. There’s no time like now to make a change.
Here are five tips, from heart experts at Banner Health, to get the most from your fitness tracker and to optimize your health. You can do this!
1. Use your fitness tracker step count as a motivator
You may not be able to control your age or genetics, but you can control how much you move each day.
Use your fitness tracker’s daily step count to challenge yourself to move more. While the American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps per day, start with a goal that feels achievable to you. If this is all new for you, be sure to consult your physician to help you create a 10,000-step (or more) plan.
Quick TipChallenge yourself to increase your step count (even by just 100 steps) each day.
2. Pay attention to your exercise intensity
Heart health isn’t just about how frequently you exercise — it’s also about the intensity of your physical activity. The American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of the two. But how can you tell when you’re actually getting moderate or vigorous exercise? This is where a fitness tracker can help.
Choose a fitness tracker that shows when you’re in one of several different heart rate zones. Your tracker will have instructions on how to get the most out of this feature. As with anything fitness related, set personal, achievable goals around workout intensity.
Quick TipNot seeing the exercise intensity results you’d like? It could be that you’ve reached a plateau in your routine. Try a new activity, such as kickboxing or weight lifting.
3. Keep an eye on your resting heart rate
Fitness trackers that record resting heart rate may also give you valuable data about your heart’s health even when you’re not moving. When you lead a physically active lifestyle, your heart muscle is typically in better overall condition, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard or beat as fast each minute when your body is resting. Bottom line? A lower resting heart rate may be an indicator of good heart health.
Quick TipAs you increase your physical activity, keep an eye on how this affects your resting heart rate over time. You might be surprised at the change from one month to the next.
4. Understand your heart rate variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the change in the time intervals between heartbeats. This is about the small fluctuations of the heartbeat, which may be affected by a range of factors including your age and how hard you’ve been exercising.
Overall, higher HRV indicates good health, whereas lower HRV correlates to fatigue and a slow recovery. If your fitness tracker is showing a high HRV score, you may be able to handle a more intense workout. On the other hand, if you see a negative trend in your HRV score, it might be a good time to take it slow and give your body a rest.
Quick tipIf you’re consistently seeing a low HRV score, check with your doctor so he or she can advise you on your overall health and rule out any problems.
5. Become a pro at managing stress
Stress is a part of life, but it can affect your heart health, too, if you are not managing it well. Although more research is needed to understand exactly how stress contributes to heart disease, we do know that certain behaviors, such as eating junk food, smoking cigarettes or over-drinking to cope with stress, can increase heart disease risk.
Several fitness trackers focus on mindfulness, along with fitness, to help you understand what triggers your stress levels and help you break bad habits for coping. Once you have the data to understand when and why you get stressed, you can anticipate stress ahead of time and let off some steam in positive, heart-healthy ways, such as exercising, meditating and maintaining a positive attitude. At the end of the day, your heart (and your loved ones) will thank you.
While the tips above are excellent for heart health, you’ll be happy to know that they are likely to improve your overall health, too. When you combine more movement with a healthy eating program, it may help you control diabetes, help you better manage your weight and potentially even have a more positive outlook on life.