Fitness trackers and devices such as heart rate monitors were earlier reserved for elite sportspersons and athletes.
This was also due to their high price points, which put them out of reach for the average person. However, over the past few years, the surge in fitness trackers launched in different price bands has led to their quick adoption by regular consumers.
A report from Counterpoint Research states that global smartwatch shipments grew at a rate of 48 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019, driven by brands such as Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Huawei. Now, the ubiquitous fitness tracker occupies prime real estate on almost everyone’s wrists; it is popular from pre-teens to the elderly. Health apps and fitness trackers provide a span of metrics, the most popular being step and calorie counts, heart rate, water consumption and sleep tracking. Using these devices to keep a tab on your overall state of health is a good thing, but many users move from casually checking these stats to obsessing over them.
IS THAT FANCY FITNESS TRACKER CONTROLLING YOU?
According to the Daily Mail, a recent report by Glasgow-based general practitioner Dr. Des Spence that was also published in the British Medical Journal claimed that all health-tracking devices were contributing to an ‘unhealthily health-obsessed generation’.
Dr. Ritika S. Aggarwal, a consultant psychologist, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre agrees that while fitness trackers have helped motivate some people, it is also slowly turning into an obsession with keeping track of said data by others.
Aggarwal says, “Some people are now relying on these devices to let them know if they are healthy rather than listening to their bodies for the answers. Most devices encourage you to set goals and reinforce your attainment of the goal by beeping and showing you a medal. This reward system can lead to compulsive behaviour, which needs to be fulfilled.”
A 2016 survey conducted with female Fitbit users showcased that about 60 per cent felt ‘controlled’ by the output of their device. One-third of these respondents also viewed this device as an ‘enemy’ and experienced feelings of guilt when their daily step goals were not achieved. Aggarwal also thinks that these devices allow people to compare their daily progress with friends and family, turning the simple joy of exercise into a constant competition with others. This, she adds, can be harmful, as it leads them to exercise in their resting period.
WHEN APPS MAKE YOU SLEEPLESS
We spoke to a 26-year-old photographer from Delhi, who, due to his erratic work schedule would experience disturbed sleep on a regular basis. A friend recommended him to use a sleep tracker and he downloaded an app onto his Apple watch to enable him to monitor his sleep.
He says, “Initially, it was fun to see how well I slept, view my sleep graph over time, and so on. It later ruined the little sleep I got because I started comparing my sleep patterns frequently. I even started worrying when there were tiny fluctuations. I realised I was dependent on my wearable in order to get good sleep.”
This is a classic case of a new condition called orthosomnia, which is “a quest to achieve perfect sleep”. People affected with this condition are on the rise globally.
Dr. Samir Parikh, director of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare observes, “While being mindful of health and fitness is definitely important for us, an obsession could definitely be detrimental to one’s overall well-being. Health includes both physical as well as mental health; therefore striking a balance is the key.”
When asked on how to tackle such an obsession, Parikh remarked that one should not be obsessed with information about their bodily functioning. It is important to shift focus to actual wellness and fitness. He adds, “Health needs to be understood as a comprehensive aspect of functioning, and therefore needs to be balanced out.”
ARE YOU FIXATED ON EATING HEALTHY?
In their fixation with shedding weight quickly, many people turn to different dieting methods such as the keto diet, intermittent fasting, planetary diet, and others.
In pursuit of achieving ones’ dream body, people start unhealthily obsessing about their diet patterns and food consumption. Dietitian Nmami Agarwal, founder and CEO at Nmami Life says, “Orthorexia is a condition in which a person is obsessed with eating healthy food. Other conditions associated with unhealthy eating are anorexia nervosa (restricting calorie intake to a bare minimum in order to lose weight) and bulimia (secretly binge eating and then trying to get rid of the eaten food by vomiting).”
Agarwal states that almost 50 per cent of young boys and girls suffer from some sort of negative body image, mostly because of short-lived social media trends.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING IS HARMFUL
Hydration is another aspect of health that people worry about on a regular basis. Health authorities recommend consuming approximately two to three litres of water. While it is harmful to the body to have lesser than this recommended limit, it is also problematic to go above this.
There are apps such as Daily Water Tracker, Aqualert, and others that assist with drinking enough water daily. While such apps are useful for those who forget to have plenty of water, obsession with hydration can lead to a condition termed as water intoxication. This is brought on by excessive water intake and, in some cases, can prove to be fatal.
In addition to a healthy diet, an exercise regimen is mandatory for a toned body and people undertake a variety of exercise programmes – running, CrossFit, Pilates, Yoga, gymming and more.
Today’s culture of instantaneous gratification sometimes spills over into fitness as well. Exercise enthusiasts who often overlook the fact that results take time, believe that spending extra active hours yield faster results.
Celebrity Pilates instructor Namrata Purohit says, “Overtraining does not mean better results. I always say that it is about training smart and not overdoing it. In fact, overtraining can lead to one feeling sluggish, cause weakness and illnesses. The muscles can also get fatigued and extremely sore, which can eventually lead to injuries.”
In the future, there is going to be a greater emphasis on health and the various statistics that determine your state of wellbeing. Tracking such metrics is a great way to be mindful about your health and stay in shape or make progress towards your fitness goals.
There is, however, a fine line between deriving benefits from these statistics and letting them overtake your life, such that they have an adverse impact on your health.