Do wearable gadgets make us healthier?

Activity monitors work by capturing and analyzing your numbers and offering feedback that may help you make decisions about your health. High blood pressure, lung conditions like COPD, diet and exercise may all be managed with a wearable gadget.

Keeping track of your health has never been so easy, or so hip. Wearable gadgets are everywhere, it seems, helping people track their calorie intake, vital signs, sleep patterns and more, with little effort. Every minute of every day. But what does it all mean? With all the data captured, calculated and shared, are these health devices actually making us healthier? It depends on how you use them, and how you protect yourself in the process.

Fitbits, Google Glasses and Apple Watches are just a few of today’s popular wearable gadgets, also known as “self-trackers” or “body hackers.” This highly sophisticated technology can help us monitor our personal habits as a means to self-improvement, a concept known as the “quantified self” movement.

Wearable gadgets work by capturing the data of your choice, then sending your stats to cloud-based data systems. These systems analyze your numbers for patterns and offer feedback that can help you make decisions about your health. High blood pressure, chronic lung conditions like COPD, diet and exercise all can be managed with a wearable gadget.

The health care industry has high expectations for the trend, hoping a more educated, empowered patient means fewer unnecessary doctor and hospital visits. For example, a Mayo Clinic study found that a Fitbit tracker could help estimate how long it should take for a surgical patient to recover in the hospital, based on how much the patient moves around after an operation. Smartphone glucose monitors can also help prevent diabetic shock by monitoring blood-sugar levels. Corporations like Walt Disney Co. are investing in the concept, too, using smart bracelets to track guest behaviors in a quest to improve the customer experience. It all adds up to big business. By 2022, wearable gadgets are expected to be a $73.27 billion market.

When used appropriately, wearable gadgets can be educational, even beneficial. But it’s important to be aware of the inherent security and privacy risks. In a 2014 report, Symantec found that wearable gadgets were vulnerable to location tracking, which means hackers could find out sensitive information like your home address, running route and vacation habits. Many gadgets also exposed users’ passwords.

Here are a few tips to protect your information while getting the most out of your wearable gadget:

Keep your information safe: Use a screen lock or password on your device. Turn off your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi when not in use. Read your device’s privacy policy, and choose devices with encrypted security measures.

Be purposeful: Do you want to run faster? Control your blood sugar level? Sleep better? Map out a goal and measure your results.

Make it fun: Test yourself. Compete with your friends. Many health tracking devices have game mechanics that can help motivate and inspire you.

Keep it healthy: Whether you’re tracking all those numbers for fun or health, make sure the net effects are positive. If, for example, the constant monitoring has you stressed or frustrated, consider redefining your goals, or paring back how much you track.

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