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Fitness going High-Tech: Wearables in 2020

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

For people with CMT, getting into a regular exercise regime has never been easier than it currently is, with a deluge of exercise options fit for all budgets and a deluge of technology aimed at tracking your wellbeing digitally. Fitness trackers and smartwatches are the main devices that aim to help with this, recording metrics such as steps taken daily, real-time heart rate, sleep trackers and more. In this post, I'll cover a few of the main contenders and my personal recommendations.

Smart watches and other fitness gadgets for CMT Charcot Marie Tooth Disease Exercise and fitness

Smart Watches

Smartwatches have emerged over the last few years, quickly filling a place somewhere between a fitness tracker and a smartphone, with pricing to match. Apple smartwatch, the Apple watch, outsold the entire Swiss watch industry in 2019, showing that it isn't a market fading away into obscurity anytime soon. The functionality of smartwatches falls somewhere between fitness trackers and smartphones, with their functionality being similar, with many offering fitness tracking capabilities:

  • Apple Watch: the smartwatch for iPhone users. The main health highlights are sleep, step and heartbeat tracking, as well as ECG readings, fall detection and medical ID. Fall detection is designed to alert contacts and emergency services if the wearer takes a fall and becomes unresponsive.

  • Galaxy Watch Active2: Currently the flagship smartwatch from Samsung, the Active2 is designed with activity in mind, able to track different types of workouts, monitor heart rate, stress levels, sleep, steps and a soon to be added-feature, blood pressure, although this feature will apparently require a traditional blood pressure unit to calibrate it monthly.

  • Fitbit Versa 2: Fitbit made their name by being one of the first companies to create fitness trackers, and have also entered the smartwatch market with several offerings. One is the Versa 2, designed to have 24/7 heart rate and activity tracking, sleep tracking, One main distinguisher between the Versa 2 and other smartwatches is a battery life of up to 6+ days, pushing it well beyond the 24 hr battery life found in the Apple and Galaxy Watch.

Fitness trackers for people with CMT Charcot Marie Tooth Disease Exercise and fitness

Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers have been around for over a decade, increasing in accuracy and functionality, with the main goals to be step, heart rate and sleep trackers. How accurate they are is up to debate, but generally, the cheaper, budget trackers are considered to be not as accurate as their more expensive counterparts. Covering a range of prices, there are many trackers to choose from, several listed below:

  • Fitbit Charge 4: The latest tracker from Fitbit who is arguably the most influential brands to kickstart the consumer activity tracker market, comes with several useful features including GPS tracking, 24/7 heart rate tracking, sleep tracking and a battery life that aims to last for up to a week before needing to charge.

  • Galaxy Fit: Aiming to offer a cheaper alternative to the Charge range from Fitbit, the Galaxy fit has many of the same features, minus the GPS tracker, but includes a full-colour screen.

  • Xiaomi Mi Band 5: The Mi Band 5 comes in at the entry-level spectrum for pricing for fitness trackers, and doesn't skimp on features and includes a colour screen, sleep tracking, intermittent heart rate monitoring and blood oxygen tracking.

Which one is useful for CMT?

If we focus on just exercise, then a good quality fitness tracker can help improve your performance, giving you insight into your current heart rate, and your sleep quality at the same level as a smartwatch, but for a cheaper price. Sleep is a crucial element for a healthy lifestyle, both improving overall well being, and exercise performance, so having a detailed analysis of this can be informative. Personally, I use a Fitbit Charge 3, which is known for being one of the leading devices for accuracy when it comes to sleep and heart rate monitoring; in fact, the sleep tracking highlighted a medical issue and with further testing in a hospital setting, I was diagnosed with Parasomnia. Also, the inbuilt timer in a lot of trackers is useful when wanting to precisely time rest intervals during exercise.

While a cheap fitness tracker may seem to be better than nothing, don't expect too much from them. When I've compared them to other trackers, they tend to have a high degree of inaccuracy, but as the technology improves, this should bring the budget trackers up in terms of accuracy; the Mi Band 5 claims to bring a 40% accuracy for sleep tracking over its predecessor.

Ultimately, however, personal budget and comfort with technology play a large role in whether to choose a smartwatch, a fitness tracker, or neither. Smartwatches can be expensive and complicated, whereas fitness trackers can be cheaper and much more straight forward to use. However, if you feel that heart rate, including ECG, step tracking and sleep monitoring won't be beneficial for yourself, then currently fitness wearables can be overlooked for now.

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