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The past decade has seen the popularity of wearable health devices skyrocket, with brands becoming household names and part of the public’s everyday vocabulary. Walking down the street, you can see them adorning the wrists of an eclectic range of people: from teens to old age pensioners. But, with every new health gimmick comes an array of important questions. How do these products affect our health? Do they fulfill the bold claims made in their advertising campaigns? Are they worth the expense or are they just a fad? Researchers are still looking into the various pressing questions that we have about fitness trackers and other products of their ilk. Here’s what we know about the two most popular wearable health devices: pedometers (instruments that count the number of steps you take in a day) and sleep monitors.

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Pedometers

Pedometers come in all shapes and sizes. From the classic LCD screen step counters that people would clip to their waistband, to the more modern devices worn as wristbands and bracelets. The latest addition to the pedometer’s repertoire is the smartphone app: anyone can download an application onto a smartphone, which will count however many steps they take with the smartphone on their person. The mere fact that companies are still investing in pedometer devices and updating the technology tied to them would imply that they are useful in bettering individual health. But is there scientific and medical evidence to back this assumption? A recent study published in the Procedia Technology Journal would suggest so, but only if the pedometers are sufficiently accurate. Professors from Mälardalen University’s school of Innovation, Design, and Engineering argue that accurate pedometers are useful tools to motivate and estimate a person’s physical activity throughout the day. However, out of six free pedometer apps on three different types of smartphones, only one phone and app combination proved effective in accurately counting the number of steps taken by the user. The introduction of a new, foolproof way of measuring activity through steps remains something to be achieved through product design and development. However, product developers have acknowledged this and are improving upon issues every day. For some examples, see products from Mindflow Design. Though we may be waiting for the perfect pedometer that measures steps to a tee, wearable pedometers still tend to boost motivation. If you are the kind of person who needs to see results to keep moving, this might be the device to get you on your feet. Try setting goals, such as 10,000 steps a day. Though the pedometer may be a few steps off, the creation of goals will see you move more than ever before.

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Sleep Tracking

“Fitness” conjures up thoughts of an active lifestyle. Exercise, increased heart rate, breathlessness, and adrenaline. Unsurprisingly, then, the terms “sleep” and “fitness” rarely tend to go hand-in-hand. But sleep has an astounding array of effects on an individual’s fitness and overall health. In fact, sleep can be just as important a part of someone’s well-being as diet and physical exertion. It ensures that your brain is prepared for the upcoming day and promotes mental wellbeing. Regarding physicality, it is involved in the healing and repair of muscles and blood vessels, maintains a healthy balance of hormones that affect your appetite, aids in the control of glucose levels in the blood and promotes general growth. In the past, you would have to visit a sleep clinic to have a medically accurate understanding of how well you are sleeping at night. Today can be replaced with a range of bracelets. In a significantly less intrusive manner, these products claim to track your sleep stages from light sleep to deep sleep and REM. Databases offer comparisons between your sleep cycle and those of individuals of a similar age and gender. A more in-depth understanding of your sleep patterns can allow you to understand the difference between deep sleep and rest, routinely get your head down at the most appropriate time to work with your schedule and seek help if you notice worrying trends. To understand the effectiveness of widely available sleep trackers, we must first know how they work. Most use “accelerometers”. These are essentially sensors which monitor the wearer’s movements, including the speed and direction of their movements. The logic is surprisingly simple: the longer you lie still, the longer the device will assume you have been asleep; the more you toss and turn, the more restless a sleeper you are. However, experts rightly point out that accelerometers can be easily duped. Studies in sleep trackers tend to highlight that there is very little difference in movement between an individual who is in light, earlier stages of sleep and deep sleep. They duly advise that trackers relying on accelerometers cannot possibly differentiate accurately between the wearer’s sleep stages. Many fear that users may put a little too much faith in the results of their sleep trackers and this could be problematic for individuals suffering from serious sleep disorders. So the verdict is in: if you want an entirely accurate sleep analysis, you should contact your GP who may book in for a polysomnography. This will offer a more in-depth insight into your sleep problems. However, if you are simply interested in how many hours you spend restlessly tossing and turning each night, a high street sleep tracker could be all you need.

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While wearable health devices may require technological improvement to rectify their accuracy, they can still be extremely beneficial to your wellbeing. As various studies have proven, pedometers may not get every step right, and sleep monitors’ claims may be a little far-fetched. However, they do give users a general gist of how active they are and a roundabout analysis of their sleep quality. For now, individuals experiencing serious problems with their health and sleep may prefer to contact their GP for advice and a thorough understanding of their situation. But for the average person, these devices seem adequate to motivate movement and head to bed at a reasonable time.