Since I bought my first serious smart watch in 2016, I have been a convert ever since. It’s the ultimate in activity accountability for me and I encourage all of my personal training clients to get one too. So in this article I’m going to answer the question ‘do smart watches help you lose weight?’
First of all, we need to understand what a smart watch is, given there’s so many options on the market.
What is a smart watch?
A smart watch/fitness tracker/heart rate monitor is a watch that keeps an ongoing record of your physical activity. Depending on the watch and the model you choose, a smart watch will keep track of information such as daily steps, heart rate, calorie burn and sleep quality. The idea is that by having your data to hand you can assess your ongoing workout and health stats.
A fitness tracking smart watch is customised to your data, so you’ll input data such as your height, weight, activity levels etc. It will then track your activity throughout the day and provide you with ongoing feedback as to your activity.
With the better models, you’ll also be able to link to an app that provides you with a graphical representation of your data. I personally use the Polar Vantage M, which is more advanced than most people need, but in all honesty I’m a bit of a fitness geek and I like being able to track a lot of data. This watch is a nice mix of features and price point, so works well for me!
The Polar Flow app gives you the information from your training in a series of graphical formats, so you can track what you’ve done and how it has affected your health and fitness. An example of how this looks on a phone screen is below…
Do smart watches help you lose weight?
In my opinion smart watches help you lose weight from a couple of standpoints…
- They let you know how many calories you’ve burned.
- The keep you accountable.
These two points are imperative for weight loss, because without either the task is much harder to complete. Weight loss is all about creating a calorie deficit and there are two ways we can do this – eat less and move more.
By monitoring your movement, smart watches help you to lose weight because they make sure you are aware of how much movement you’ve completed, the intensity of the movement and the calorie burn accrued through that movement. This is all valuable information when it comes to weight loss, because it helps to give you an idea of the calories you’ll need to eat (or not eat!) in order to maintain your target calorie deficit.
What a smart watch won’t do is lose weight for you, you’re still responsible for how much you eat and how much you move. What it will do is provide you with additional data to make the process easier. It’s up to you to use the data.
How to use a smart watch to help you lose weight
Most smart watches will track your calorie expenditure every day, so start by keeping track of your daily expenditure. I’d suggest you try to create a calorie deficit of around 1000 calories per day.
You do this by finding out your calorie target. The easiest way to do this is to head to My Fitness Pal and find out how many calories per day you should be eating to lose weight. Once you have this weight loss figure in place, I’d be aiming to burn another 300-500 calories per day with exercise and activity.
Most of the major smart watches pair with My Fitness Pal, which makes tracking your calories so much easier. When they’ve synced, the smart watch will upload you calorie burn data with your calorie target at the end of the workout. This data is a huge asset – use it properly and your smart watch will certainly help you lose weight.
How accurate are smart watches?
There’s been a lot of debate about this, because studies have shown that step counters can overestimate steps taken etc. When it comes to weight loss and exercise data though, the heart rate monitor is more important than the pure step counter data, because it’s an assessment of the most important data points. You can game the step counter by wearing it when washing up (or tying it to the dog!), but you can’t fake the heart rate data.
I said earlier that I used Polar products for monitoring my heart rate. In all honesty, that goes back to my university days where we used Polar products in the lab because they were the most accurate. I hadn’t assessed them since.
When I dug around in the research though, I found that the Polar chest strap is still considered the most accurate way of measuring heart rate. I’m not a huge fan of relying on the wrist method, because I find the watch can move around and that reduces in a lack of accuracy. It can be circumnavigated by tightening the watch, but that isn’t always the most comfortable.
If you’re interested in the study by the way, here it is – it shows the accuracy of commercially available heart rate monitors.
What is the best use of a smart watch for weight loss?
The most effective way to make sure your smart watch helps you lose to lose weight is to use the calorie data – use it to see if you’ve trained hard and how many calories you’ve burned each day. That way you’ll be able to make informed decisions on how much food you can eat to make sure you are still losing weight.
By syncing your smart watch with a calorie tracker app you’ll have more data and will be able to use your smart watch to help you lose weight. It makes the whole process so much easier. if you saw an article I’ve previously written on increasing your non-exercise activity thermogenesis, you’ll see how much of an impact on weight loss something as simple as walking every day can have.
Will a smart watch help you lose weight? Concluding thoughts…
Of course it won’t do the work for you, you still need to train hard and exercise some serious dietary discipline in order to lose weight, but your smart watch can certainly help you lose weight if you use the data properly. It’ll keep you accountable and will remind you if you don’t move enough!
It’ll certainly be easier to lose weight with the data and help a smart watch can give you. If nothing else, it’ll give you an idea of the amount of exercise you’ve done and that’s a pretty integral part of the weight loss process.
I bought my smart watch in 2016 and I’ve not stopped using it since. That’s the biggest compliment I can give the technology.
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