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Healthy Husky: Meaning in the measure

By Luke Belval
On May 1, 2014

This column has discussed a wide range of health topics this year, from sleep to eating to exercise. While the tips contained within are all still valid, this column would be a failure if it did not discuss the many ways you can measure progress toward healthier lifestyle. As with any aspect of life these days, technology in the health and fitness market has exploded and access to metrics that were once only available in laboratories are now able to be in your pocket. Whether your goals are to lose weight, increase physical activity or eat healthier, there probably is an app for that.
When it comes to losing weight even the simplest metric has been glamourized by technology. You can now buy scales that will automatically upload your weight to a website, track your trends and even measure your heart rate. Is there any difference in the ultimate measurement? No. When you are looking to lose weight there are so many factors that come into play that even the most advanced scales may not paint the whole picture. For example when we think of weight loss we always are concerned about fat, when in fact concurrent changes in muscle mass may occur. This means on any given week, you can lose a pound of fat only to be dismayed when the number on the scale remains equivalent. When it comes to measuring weight changes it's best to combine your number on the scale with some other measure of health, even if it is just how well your jeans fit.
No piece of technology is hotter in the health and fitness market now than wearables. Brands like Fitbit, Jawbone and Samsung all have created products to monitor your every move using accelerometers, pedometers and barometers. The biggest problem behind this technology right now is not in its engineering but rather its analysis. What is a healthy amount of steps in a day? The World Health Organization does have the guidelines of 10,000 steps, but such a broad number does not translate to any specific health outcome, especially in a young healthy population. So while it may be fashionable to wear a Fitbit on your wrist, strongly consider what you do with the data. Your global health extends well beyond a step count.
Not only are there apps designed to help you eat healthier, there are hundreds if not thousands of them.
The most popular apps rely on calorie counters that help make sure you eat the right amount of food based on your weight loss goals. Even the best of these apps have their flaws. How many calories do you need? The formulas for these calculations rely on a wide variety of assumptions that can lead to a large difference between your estimated and actual needs. Then if you input your physical activity into these same calculations, you likely create a grand overestimation of your caloric needs. The fact is that most calculations for how many calories you burn during exercise are very far from the truth. It takes a truly strenuous workout to burn 800-1000 calories in 1 hour.
When it comes to tracking your health and fitness trends, it is best to use a combination of metrics and ultimately some subjective ratings as well. Technology certainly can be assistive but you must understand how to properly analyze the data for it to be truly applicable. One of the best ways to tell if a program is working is if it makes you feel better. The best programs are those that start with making you happier about your body and lifestyle and then letting the numbers follow.

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