There’s nothing especially magic about living well: The steps we need to take are logical and pretty well-known. But that doesn’t mean a health overhaul comes easy. Too often, despite our best intentions, the pounds pile on. Muscles turn to Jell-O. Stress rules the roost, and sleep is a fitful exercise in tossing and turning and checking the smartphone at 3 a.m.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The difference between failure and success boils down to approach and mindset, to selecting the right habits to tweak and -- crucially -- using the latest science to kick out bad habits and forge better, long-lasting new ones.
Most important of all: This isn’t a temporary fix. It’s a new -- and far more rewarding -- way of living. Read on if you're ready to get started.
But I believe that one day, your average daily step count will be a core vital sign, like pulse and blood pressure and weight.
Fitbits and other fitness trackers are sneakily addictive. They can give a sense of achievement on the most ordinary day, and they deliver more data about our daily activities than ever before.
But do these gadgets make us healthier? We talked with experts about the ways they might help us reach our wellness goals.
The default goal is 10,000 steps per day. Dr. Raj Khandwalla , a cardiologist at the Cedars Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, uses the Apple HealthKit to track his exercise progress — and once he started, he stopped using elevators and started using stairs.
“Right now, we still need clinical trials to understand what all this data means. But I think these devices are excellent,” Khandwalla says.
“For the first time, we can quantify activity,” he says. “This can have significant implications for preventing heart disease. It may be as simple as walking 10,000 steps can reduce the risk of having a heart attack in the future. We don’t know. But I believe that one day, your average daily step count will be a core vital sign, like pulse and blood pressure and weight.”
So your Fitbit says you slept six hours, woke up twice during the night and were restless 16 times. Fascinating. But is it useful?
Khandwalla believes that with more research, this information will turn out to be valuable. “Improving sleep and sleep quality are more difficult than getting people to exercise more,” he says.
Dr. Michelle Grotz-Rhone , an internist for One Medical Group in Beverly Hills, says the sleep data can give her information that serves as a springboard for discussion, but “I am more concerned about what my patients feel like clinically than what the gadget says.”
Water intake/food diary/calorie count
Perhaps, says Grotz-Rhone, these devices will make people mindful of ways to increase energy, drink enough water and stay away from foods that will cause their blood sugar to spike and then crash. “If someone finds that the gentle reminders throughout the day from a Fitbit works for them, that can promote habit change,” she says.
Dr. Gregory Taylor II , medical director of Keck Medicine of USC in downtown Los Angeles, will give a free fitness tracker to any of the 7,000 faculty and staff at Keck Medical Center who request them because he believes it will improve their health.
If he could get patients to track just one thing, he says, it would be diet. Sleep, diet and exercise are all important, but “if you cannot feed your body the proper ingredients, it cannot perform.”
Whether you sign up to share your data with friends or simply trash talk with office mates at the water cooler, challenging friends can be motivating, experts say.
“One of the great features of these trackers is that you can compete with others,” says Santiago Prada, a certified personal trainer and director of membership and healthy lifestyles at the Hollywood YMCA. “You can see who burned the most calories, who took the most steps. Everyone is competitive, so sharing with friends ups everybody’s game.”
The larger question is whether these devices promote long-term behavior change. “I think our work shows that gadgets are just gadgets — not magic, except for a few very motivated people,” said Donna Spruijt-Metz , director of the USC mHealth Collaboratory at the university’s Center for Economic and Social Research. “However, I think that a good theory-based intervention that includes mobile health and just-in-time feedback has a much better chance of making a difference.”