Activity Trackers Can Benefit Lifestyle Changes

NIDDK’s Dr. Kong Chen says activity trackers are useful, but only when used appropriately.
NIDDK’s Dr. Kong Chen says activity trackers are useful, but only when used appropriately.

PHOTOS: ERIC BOCK

An activity tracker can be a valuable tool to motivate a person to lead a more active lifestyle if it’s used to measure progress over time. That’s the advice Dr. Kong Chen has for people who received a device over the holidays or bought one to follow through on a New Year’s resolution.

These wireless devices provide information about a person’s habitual activity levels and exercise patterns. Depending on the type and model, an activity tracker can monitor heart rate; count steps, stairs climbed and calories burned; and provide a snapshot of sleep quality. And they can beworn on the wrist, upper arm, ankle or waist.

“The ultimate goal of an activity tracker is to help you achieve and maintain an active lifestyle,” said Chen, director of the human energy and body weight regulation core and acting chief of the energy metabolism section in the Diabetes, Endocrinology and Obesity Branch at NIDDK. “I would not recommend using an activity tracker’s calorie estimation to plan a diet.”

He said most people who buy fitness trackers are probably trying to lose weight.

Activity trackers contain a device called an accelerometer, which detects when a person is active, sedentary or asleep, based on movement. He said an algorithm uses the movement data to estimate calories burned based on a person’s gender, age, height and weight. Often, a tracker connects to a smartphone, computer or tablet, where users can view summaries of their daily activity and even set goals or challenge their friends on social networks.

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West Links Environmental Change to Eye Health Hazards

Dr. Sheila West of Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute
Dr. Sheila West of Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute

Another reason to worry about climate change: Expanding areas of arid land, air pollution and greater exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation all present potential health hazards to your eyes, according to Dr. Sheila West, vice chair for research at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University. She recently discussed these hazards at a symposium on the health consequences of climate change.

The tissues at the front of the eye—the cornea, eyelid, the white part called the sclera and even the lens—are all exposed to the environment. Adverse environmental changes may therefore have deleterious effects on the eye, West said at the symposium, sponsored by the NIH global health interest group.

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