Wearables – A New Name for a Not-So-New Idea
It seems that new wearable technology devices like smart watches and fitness trackers go on the market every week, but the idea of wearing something to improve our health or lifestyle certainly isn’t a new concept. Think how hearing aids add immeasurably to the lives of those with hearing loss, or how a simple pair of “cheater” eyeglasses allow those of us who aren’t quite ready for prescription lenses or laser eye surgery to see more clearly.
The big difference with new wearable technology is the collection and exchange of information between you, your wearable, and your smart device (i.e. smart phone). This active exchange of data – information about your heart rate, activity level, posture, form, etc. – makes it possible for you to adjust and improve for better health, more efficient athletic performance, and overall enhanced well-being.
Different Types of Wearables – Which is Right for You?
The most popular wearable devices in the U.S. by far are the wide variety of fitness trackers available now. Some early fitness trackers and apps required you to enter information about how long and how strenuously you exercised, and how much sleep you got, but many of today’s trackers will log that information and more, and store it for you to review later – all designed to help you monitor your health and wellness goals over time.
Fitness trackers can perform simple tasks like reminding you to stand or move throughout your day or to drink more water. Some count the number of steps you take, encourage you when you’re falling behind your daily goal, and motivate you to cover more distance. Many fitness trackers can be paired with weight loss and exercise apps to double the effectiveness of your device. You can tailor the combination to meet your personal needs.
Smart watches have fitness applications too, but they are generally limited to heart rate monitor and pedometer functions. Smart watches are best for providing information and notifications, and lend themselves to some sports and activities more than others. For example, if you enjoy hiking or scuba diving, you’ll find smart watches that monitor current conditions and can alert you to changes in weather or temperature, help with navigation, and stay attuned to your basic vital signs.
Some smart watches can help keep you safe if you live alone. In fact, a new version of one of the most popular smart watches now features a fall sensor. If you fall while wearing the watch and the device doesn’t sense that you’ve moved since the fall, it will call for help. Like fitness trackers, there is some programming and setup involved to take full advantage of each device’s features, but in the case of a fall sensor, it could be a lifesaver.
Smart clothing exists in many forms including shoes with self-tying laces, jackets that heat up or cool down, and dresses that change color. Yoga enthusiasts can even find gear that corrects their form while exercising. Tiny electronic sensors between layers of fabric produce vibrations across the body part that is out of alignment, encouraging you to move your hip forward, or point your foot in a different direction.
Pros and Cons of Wearables
Wearables like fitness trackers are helping many individuals move more, eat less, get more sleep, and generally be more tuned in to their health and where they may need to make changes or improvements. Physicians are using wearables to monitor patients more closely after illness or surgery, and finding that wearables provide real time opportunities to adjust treatment recommendations based on the patient’s recovery.
One of the primary downfalls of wearables is that exchange of information mentioned earlier. Health data gathered in a doctor’s office or hospital is protected, but data gathered from a fitness tracker or smart watch may not be as safe. Wearables users need to be knowledgeable about who can see their data and how it’s being used. Just like online shopping or banking, there are risks to “putting yourself out there” especially when it comes to possibly sensitive medical information.
Another possible drawback is the inaccuracy of information provided by wearable technology. If your wearable pedometer is off a step or two, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re counting on a fitness tracker to accurately report your heart rate or blood pressure and the numbers are off, you could be at risk for overexertion, injury, or worse.
Like any new, shiny toy, many people report using their smart watch or fitness tracker for a short time, and then losing interest when the device becomes inconvenient to use. If you’re planning on purchasing a wearable, be sure to look at important features like battery life, water resistance, ease of use, appearance, and comfort to ensure you’ll get the most out of your investment and be satisfied with your new device.
The Future of Wearables
Wearables are very big business in the U.S. In fact, U.S. revenue in the wearables segment is expected to reach nearly $13 million in 2018, and expected to grow at 4.7% annually for the next five years. The possibilities for new types of wearables designed to work with other smart devices are nearly limitless – dependent only on the imagination of manufacturers, device makers, and public demand. Take a look at the myriad wearable devices available, and explore how a fitness tracker or smart watch might fit into your health and wellness routine.