Wearing (and Tracking) Your Heart on Your Wrist

Well Being Monday, November 9, 2015 Written by

Keeping yourself accountable in the gym isn’t always easy. As I planned my wedding in early 2007, like many soon-to-be brides I was hitting the gym several times a week. There were signs plastered to each wall advertising massive calorie burns for the newest cardio machines and classes. I remember one in particular, “Burn 1,000 calories in an hour!” For a smaller woman like me (I’m 5-foot-1 on a good day), these signs seemed too good to be true — and they were.

A friend who regularly competes in marathons and fitness competitions suggested I start wearing a heart-rate (HR) monitor to get a more accurate calorie burn and stay within my target HR zone. In addition to looking good walking down the aisle, my family unfortunately has a long and storied history of cardiovascular disease — keeping my heart healthy is important to me. (My dad had a heart attack at 49, in addition to multiple heart attacks and strokes had by other family members. Thankfully my dad lived and is very active today, with a clean bill of health.) Knowing your target-HR zone can help you make your workouts more effective and give you better fitness results. Check out the American Heart Association site to learn more about what numbers you should aim and train for.

STARTING SIMPLE WITH TARGET HEART-RATE TRAINING

On my friend’s advice, I shopped around and purchased a Polar F4, which I wore for more than eight years. I love the workout snapshot provided by a fitness tracker, and how it keeps me honest with myself. I looked at my watch many times over the years, convinced I was about to pass out, only to realize I was barely in my target-HR zone. And while I sometimes resent the numbers telling me I could be working harder, it’s a great tool to help me push myself.

The discrepancy between calorie counts provided by many cardio machines and HR monitors can be drastic, too. I can spend an hour on a spin bike with the machine displaying a calorie burn of around 700, while my fitness tracker provides a count of barely half that number! If you’re watching your calorie intake, having a more accurate picture of what you’re actually burning can make a big difference.

UPGRADING TO A FITBIT WITH LOTS OF FEATURES

My F4 sadly stopped working a few months ago and was deemed beyond repair. With so many new devices on the market, the choices for a new fitness tracker were a bit overwhelming. After reading reviews and listening to recommendations from friends and family, I went with the Fitbit Charge HR. And although I loved my original fitness tracker, I was tired of wearing the somewhat uncomfortable chest strap it required, and liked the idea of continuous wrist-based HR monitoring provided by the Charge HR.

It’s well known that the HR-monitoring functions of wrist-only devices are slightly less accurate than those with chest straps, but I’m certainly not training at the level where this type of accuracy matters. It’s also nice to have the pedometer and elevation/stair climbing functions included, along with the bevy of bells and whistles on the Fitbit phone app. These aren’t necessarily fitness related, but among my favorites are the silent alarm and call notification functions, which allow me to more easily keep my phone stashed when I’m not using it. A nice bonus! I’ve also had great luck integrating Fitbit’s stats and dashboard with MyFitnessPal, the popular diet-and-exercise tracking app.

I wore a Fitbit Flex for a few months last year, and was frustrated with the cumbersome clasp and lack of readout on the device. (It has since found a new home with a friend.) The Charge HR has a traditional watch clasp, and I can quickly check my step count and HR throughout the day on the device itself, without having to access the app on my phone. It’s a nice upgrade from the Flex, and in my opinion, worth the extra cost. If you’re in the market for a HR monitor or other type of fitness tracker, check out CNET’s recently published list, The Best Fitness Trackers of 2015.

Happy tracking!

Hillary Omdal is an internal communications manager at LifeWise. She loves food and cooking, and is always looking for new, healthy and fast recipes to feed her family (ones they’ll actually eat). A Northwest native, Hillary spends as much time outdoors as possible, and can often be found playing on the beach, hiking on local trails and camping. She lives in Bothell with her husband and two boys, Lucas, 4, and Evan, 2.