Track and check

Track and check
Video editor Germain Wu (second from left) and (from left) his friends Denise Zhou, 32, Ho Wei Neng, 25, and Ng Zhong Ying, 24, use the Polar Loop activity tracker.

Slept enough? Check. Walked enough? Check. Didn't consume too many calories? Check.

Activity trackers, which can detect motion, calculate calorie intake and monitor sleep patterns and are typically worn as wristbands, are becoming the latest lifestyle accessory for the health-conscious.

To quote The Police hit, Every Breath You Take, every step you take, every move you make, they'll be watching you.

Hollywood actresses Kristen Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow have been spotted donning the wristbands. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been photographed wearing one at grassroots functions.

The devices include the Fitbit Flex, Garmin Vivofit, Jawbone Up24, LifeTrak Zone C410, Nike+ FuelBand SE, Polar Loop, Samsung Gear Fit, Sony SmartBand, and Withings Pulse O2. They cost from S$123 to S$268 and stores are seeing brisk sales.

Users say they are drawn to the trackers' sleek designs and monitoring functions. Most devices can be synced with mobile apps or computer programs to chart one's progress over a period of time.

Mr Germain Wu, 32, a video editor for corporate videos and television commercials, has been wearing the Polar Loop activity tracker for two months.

He wears it even in the shower and removes it only when the device needs charging. He likes how it reminds him to stay active and get enough sleep.

He says: "If I'm inactive for an hour, the device will light up and remind me to walk around. Without it, I'll be glued to my computer the whole day and feel lethargic afterwards."

Having the device also encourages him to turn in early to get his desired seven hours of sleep a night.

He says: "If I sleep three hours a night, the device will reflect this and seeing the figure makes me want to sleep more the following night to make up for it."

He says his health has improved as a result of all the monitoring.

He has lost 5kg and now weighs 70kg. He also feels more energetic during the day.

"My family, girlfriend and friends have also bought it. It really helps me to understand how I spend my day."

Another user, marketing manager Jemima Loh, 27, uses her Fitbit Flex to ensure that she reaches her daily goal of walking 10,000 steps a day.

She says: "Some days, I'd feel tired despite not attaining my target. In such cases, I will push myself by walking longer distances. Knowing how much I walked yesterday also encourages me to want to top the distance today."

Ms Loh also enters her daily calorie consumption - from a banana muffin to a bowl of laksa - into a mobile app synced to her monitoring device.

"I allow myself 1,500 calories a day so the system helps me allocate them and plan my meals.

"With this system, there is no room for cheating."

Most stores say they started bringing in the trackers last year. At Challenger stores, more than 7,000 activity tracker units have been sold this year alone. Monthly sales have also soared 60 per cent from last year. At Gain City, sales of the trackers have risen 15 per cent since last year. Courts, Harvey Norman, Newstead Technologies, Nubox and EpiCentre stores are also seeing rising demand.

But how accurate are these devices?

Users interviewed say some devices are less accurate when detecting workouts which are not step-based, such as cycling and yoga. Some models are also not sophisticated enough to differentiate between exercising and certain hand movements such as using a paper fan.

General practitioners interviewed say the devices can help motivate people who want to keep an eye on how much they exercise and eat.

Says Dr Leong Choon Kit, 47, from Mission Medical Clinic: "Some systems let users post their 'achievements' on social media. This can motivate users because it makes them 'accountable' to their friends about how active and healthy they are."

But Dr Clarence Yeo, 41, from Killiney Family & Wellness Clinic, warns against overdoing things.

He says: "If users become obsessed with complying with their regimes, they might exercise when they are unwell or injured and this can lead to overtraining or further injury."

Adds Dr Philip Koh, 49, medical board chairman of Healthway Medical Group: "It can help you understand your daily routine. But you still need the discipline to exercise regularly and eat right."

Ms Emma Loh, 28, bought one in March this year, but stopped using it after two months.

Says the copywriter, who also plays drums in a band: "When I'm performing, the device senses vibration and thinks I'm jogging. I end up clocking thousands of steps although I'm just sitting down playing drums.

"For now, such devices don't suit my lifestyle. If more intelligent ones come my way, I might consider using them."


This article was first published on August 3, 2014.
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