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Fitness Data: How It Helps You

Fidgeting in your chair might not mean much on its own. But it's a different story when you’re wearing an activity tracker. Tracking your actions over time helps paint a surprisingly rich picture of your health.

Fitness devices measure your movements as long as you wear them and translate them into data, like calories burned. Wearable fitness devices and the apps associated with them help you track your exercising, eating, mood, and more.

If you’re particularly dedicated to following your habits by using a personal tracking device, then you might be what’s called a "quantified selfer," or QSer for short. Logging your activities is sometimes called “life logging” or “systematized self-help.”

What You Gain From Keeping Tabs

When you track your movement over time, you see how truly active you are. You can use your numbers to help you decide if you need to exercise more. And you can see how the adjustments you make affect your stats, like how many calories you burn when you take the stairs instead of the elevator.

You can track and use data about what you eat in the same way. Keeping a food journal on an app or on paper shows you the cups of coffee you drink added together. When you see all those coffee cups checked off, you get new insight about your caffeine fix. Suddenly, your jitters, midday energy dip, or late-night insomnia might make more sense, and you can change how much you drink.

Another helpful piece of personal info you can track is your mood. If you’re having a stressful day, bombarded with texts and demands, some trackers can turn changes in your pulse or breathing patterns into meaningful data. When you look at your stats for a week or so, you can start to identify the situations and times of day that are the most challenging. Then, you can use that new insight to adjust your work habits or how you spend your down time (yoga, anyone?).

How Data-Tracking Can Improve Your Health

It’s tempting to think that all you need to do is track to stay healthy. But as any veteran quantified selfer will tell you, to maximize your experience, you need to ask questions and set goals.

If you want to exercise more to help you lose weight, fitness tracking can help you set a goal for how many calories you want to burn. For instance, if you raise the calories you burn by 200 a day, by the end of the week you'll have burned 1,400 calories -- almost half a pound's worth.

Once you have a goal, you can test your approach. For example, a longer workout should burn more calories. So try exercising at different times of day to see when you have the most endurance. You might find that mornings are your best time to work out longer and burn more calories.

Tracking your behavior and results shows you on what to work on. If you like what you’re seeing, build on it. And as you succeed, find a community where you can log progress and post status reports.

It’s no wonder some experts view the tracking movement as an example of behavior psychology at its most positive. It helps you know what’s benefiting you and what isn’t.

Whether you choose to skim the surface of this trend or go all in for the QS-ing life, data tracking could be good for your health.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 15, 2013

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