Doctors are noticing a change in exam room conversations. Patients are coming in armed with details about their exercise, sleep and eating habits thanks to the popularity of digital fitness trackers. Wearable gadgets such as FitBit and Jawbone, and apps that track things like what you eat, keep users from relying on self-perception to see if their health is improving. The data speaks for itself.
“I think tracking health habits is just as important as tracking your bank account,” Dr. Leonardo Oliveira, a sports and exercise medicine specialist at UCF Health, the College of Medicine physician practice, says. “If you have a health goal in mind, tracking your weight, calories, exercise intensity and/or workout routine can monitor your progress to help you reach the specific target.”
All UCF Health physicians are faculty at Orlando’s young medical school, and they embrace technology in their teaching of future physicians as well as for patients. For them, technology isn’t a trendy toy. It’s a way to improve learning, and medical research backs up that perspective. About 75 percent of smartphone owners have a health-related app that they use weekly and about 10 percent of U.S. adults own some type of fitness tracking device, according to Parks Associates, a market research firm. Researchers say such information empowers users to make lifestyle changes because it shows visible progress.
This is not the first time data has helped make us healthier. The first body-weight scale was introduced in the late 1800s, when people would pay a penny to weigh themselves in public. Over time, researchers noticed that this knowledge of the “quantified self” helped people lose weight.
Dr. Maria Cannarozzi, medical director and internal medicine specialist at UCF Health, has seen the impact of tracking devices for people trying to lose weight. “People think they eat healthy and then after a week or two of tracking their food intake are surprised to learn that they average about 500 calories more per day than what the recommend amount is,” she says. “For patients, knowledge is power.”
Trackers can also help with chronic conditions, showing diabetics their blood sugar trends and allowing those with arthritis to track their movement. At UCF Health’s pain management support group, each participant gets a FitBit. Many participants keep using the tracker even after their sessions end because they like seeing their daily progress.
“It helps patients hold themselves accountable and monitor their progress,” Dr. Cerissa Blaney, director of behavioral health services at the College of Medicine clinic, says. “Seeing the numbers helps patients maintain gains and also gives them motivation and social support that encourages them to keep going.”
The devices are only helpful if you do something with the information gleamed from them, the medical school physicians say. If you have a health goal in mind, share the information in your device with your doctor to help them make better recommendations for you.
UCF Health, the College of Medicine physician practice, provides primary care and multiple specialties in two locations – on University Boulevard near the main UCF Campus and in Medical City. For more information, visit UCFHealth.com.