Ask the expert: How can wearables help me?

Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance
07 December 2017

You might think that wearable tracking devices – or smartwatches as you might know them – are just for the fitness fanatics out there. But they can actually help you with your health and wellbeing in so many more ways. Professor Greg Whyte, a sports scientist and former Olympian, is a brand ambassador for FitBit. Here he explains all the different ways you might be able to benefit from a wearable.


Aren’t wearables just about fitness?

Wearable technology is not just about fitness. I think sometimes what we see the media do is that they push it into a particular category. So what we've begun to recognise is that wearable technology is somehow exclusively for fitness. But it's not; it's actually about lifestyle, and I think making sure that you select the right wearable tech to support you in whatever your goal is – I think that's the crucial aspect to it. So it's about finding what works for you.

It's not solely about fitness: actually it's about behavioural modification; it's about lifestyle; it's about actually making differences to small aspects of it.

What’s the point of tracking my physical activity if I’m not a fitness fanatic?

The greatest thing about wearables is when it comes to physical activity they often tell you how little you're doing. I think many of us think that we're very very active, and that really runs to the lifestyle habit of stress, is that we apportion stress with activity, which is very a different thing. And I think the first time you wear wearable tech and you look at things like step count or distance travelled or even things like calories burned, often what you do is you have a realisation of how little we actually do during the day, particularly if we've got sedentary jobs. Because much of our physical activity in the past was based around vocational activity - what we did at work. Nowadays we live in a service sector environment: very little activity at work, lots of sitting down. So I think the one great thing is it's not initially about fitness, unless that's your goal. I think what it will do is it will just paint a picture for you of what you're currently doing and when and how you're doing that.

What can a wearable help to track, apart from my physical activity?

This is where the advances of wearable have come in really. What we started to do is we started to integrate all of the behaviour within single devices. So what you can now do with with Fitbit for example – particularly if you can interface with a smartphone if you've got a smartphone or you've got a computer – then what you can do is you can actually track your nutrition; you can track your diet; and you can also track hydration. In doing that what you can see is that balance between energy expenditure – how much energy we're expending with regards to physical activity, for example – and energy consumption: what are we consuming, what foodstuffs, what are the quantity of calories that were actually consuming? And we can look at that balance between energy consumption and energy expenditure. Wearable tech is a wonderful way to do that because it integrates everything into a single space. One of the big problems we have in life is that these things aren't necessarily rocket science, but what they're doing is they're making it simple; they're making it accessible; and they're making it very very easy to use, and that really is the key when we're looking for behaviour change.

What about stress?

Stress is an interesting one because invariably in life what we are trying to do is it's a balance between stress and recovery. Now that stress comes in many forms, so there is physical stress – when we exercise for example – but there's also stress from home life, from friendships, from work. There's lots of stressors and what we're trying to do is optimise recovery, so that we can actually come into equilibrium. And in that environment it effectively doesn't become maladaptive; we don't create problems for ourselves.

So there are two things where wearables can be very valuable in that environment. Number one is the advancements, where for example on the Fitbit you've got this thing called relax. And what it'll do is it will simply just run through a very simple set of exercises where you just take those moments in the day when you feel very stressed. And what it can do is just give you the opportunity to de-stress, just to relax through some very simple breathing exercises. Of course what it also does is it will monitor your sleep, in other words your recovery. Sleep is incredibly important because it's central to your recovery. If you're getting poor sleep you're effectively getting poor recovery. So by monitoring sleep, by identifying when you're getting good sleep bad sleep, when there's lots of movement during sleep, when there's lots of wakeful periods, what you can do is you can make changes to that sleep environment. You can improve your sleep hygiene, so therefore improve your recovery. So wearable tech can be a really valuable tool when it comes to stress.

Professor Greg Whyte
Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance

What would you like us to write about?


The Bupa knee clinic

An icon of a human bone or joint

If you have injured your knee or have a long-term knee problem, the Bupa knee clinic can help you find the information and support you need.