Health monitoring devices are firmly in the mainstream. You can use them to detect how well you sleep or how active you are on a particular day, then flag any trends to share with your doctor.

These products can help you stay motivated and aware of your health. But they may share more data than you think.

What Data Is Found on Health & Fitness Devices?

The specific things tracked by health and fitness wearables vary depending on the manufacturer. However, you’ll usually find these trackers collect certain health data points by default.

Heart Rate

Variations in your heart rate at rest versus during exercise can partially reveal your overall fitness. But fitness trackers usually also require entering details such as your gender, age, and weight before accurately calculating your healthy heart rate range.

Activity Level

Fitness trackers measure this metric in various ways. Some determine what percentage of your day involves movement versus sitting. Others calculate the number of steps you took or how many calories you burned.

Sleep Quality

People often say how well you sleep determines your preparedness for the next day. You’ve almost certainly experienced that claim playing out in your life. But what determines whether you feel well-rested or groggy after waking? Health and fitness trackers can often tell you.

That feature is particularly beneficial if you’re trying new things to improve your sleep and want a better idea of which ones give the biggest payoffs. Many devices also break down the details of how long you spend in each sleep phase.

Stress Management

Stress can be beneficial, but there’s a fine line between it helping you and potentially causing harm over the long run. That’s why many fitness tracker watch features increasingly relate to stress management.

For example, they suggest taking a break for a short breathing exercise or give you numerical scores based on how well you handled your stress for the day or week. Some devices have mood-tracking features, helping you notice trends.

Advantages of Collecting Health & Fitness Data

Girl looking at a smart watch

Having health and fitness data at your fingertips comes with many perks. You’re most likely to benefit from them when you take the time to understand how to activate your product’s settings and tweak them for maximum applicability.

Better Visibility

Many people only visit health care providers for annual physicals or if they notice bothersome symptoms. If you’re the same and are relatively healthy, you may only see your doctor a few times a year or less.

Plus, the data collected during a doctor’s visit only represents a snapshot in time. Since fitness trackers provide 24/7 monitoring, they can pick up on things a physician’s exam might not. Many fitness trackers allow you to share statistics with a doctor. That’s particularly helpful if you’ve noticed something worrisome but your provider didn’t find anything amiss during your office visit.

Improved Motivation

Some health and fitness trackers allow you and your friends to link data streams, then compete with each other to be the most active or burn the most calories in the group. Plus, since health monitoring devices have in-depth analytics, you can always look at those and challenge yourself to walk more steps this week than last or significantly increase your average running speed during the next month.

Those options can be great, especially if you need an extra boost to stay engaged with your fitness goals. However, these motivators can adversely affect some people. Eating disorders may develop or worsen when individuals pay too much attention to calories consumed or burned. Some people also feel guilty if they don’t meet specific fitness goals.

Enhanced Understanding of Your Body

Have you ever wondered why some people have great results from fitness programs and others end up disappointed, although they also worked hard? It’s impossible to say what happened in every case, but there’s a good chance the people who get the best results also paid close attention to fitness tracker metrics.

For example, tuning in to your device's heart rate and respiration statistics will help you gauge workout effectiveness and whether you need to take things down a notch to avoid being too hard on your body. If your fitness tracker has stress-management features, you can start learning which situations put you under the most pressure and proactively adapt to them.

How Secure Is Your Data?

Data protection and third-party access sometimes become murky regarding health and fitness data. Why is data privacy important for matters relating to your well-being? Because the lack of it may reveal personal details to companies or individuals without your knowledge.

For example, it’s usually possible to instruct the organization whether or not to share things about you. However, the business still has some limited circumstances allowing it to provide data to others without your permission.

Fitbit challenges, for example, fall outside the scope of Fitbit's privacy policy. By participating in one, details like your profile photo, step count, and achievements become public.

Plus, fitness tracker data is valuable for researchers learning about differences in socioeconomic groups. In that case, participants agreed to donate their Fitbit data to further scientific research.

Ways to Protect Your Privacy

White fitness smart watch on white background

Every health and fitness tracker manufacturer has different privacy policies. Take the time to read them and learn how to enable or disable specific features.

It’s also good to ask yourself why you share certain things. One writer for Stylist revealed how disabling social-sharing features can actually have a motivational effect. Are you sharing statistics about a workout for bragging rights? Do you really want people to know exactly which running route you chose on a particular day? Some users rightfully feel such details invade their privacy. Become familiar with what you share, and learn how to turn it on and off for better control.

A reporter for The New York Times also responded to a reader who wanted a tracker that counted steps but didn’t collect data. The answer suggested everything from old-fashioned pedometers to modern fitness gadgets that allow disabling data collection.

Consider what benefits you get by sharing data. Then, weigh those against the possible privacy tradeoffs. Resist accepting the default privacy or sharing settings. Dig deeper and find out what each setting means, then tweak them if possible.

Use Health and Fitness Trackers Thoughtfully

Although health and fitness trackers provide many excellent insights, they may also reduce your privacy. Being aware of that possibility and following the suggested strategies can help you strike a good balance.

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