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Does relying on a smart watch for a long time really help improve health?

      Some brands now have ECG monitors, which let you check foratrial fibrillation, and pulse oximeters, a useful feature during a coronavirus infection, when low blood oxygen can be a useful signal. Others can track your skin’s exposure to the sun. If you fall down in the woods, Apple assures us in some rather alarming advertising, its watch can call for help.

      But does this constant monitoring of our vital signs trulyyieldbetter health? There’s no clear answer yet. One study found that people trying to lose weight who used wearable technology to help actually lost less weight than their watch-free counterparts. A review in the American Journal of Medicine found “little indication that wearable devices provide a benefit for health outcomes.” Another issue is that the measuring abilities of wearables are imperfect for somemetrics.

      It’s an extension of ourhustle-oriented culture, said the executive coach and performance expert Brad Stulberg, “Our culture promotes the limiting belief that measurable achievement is the predominant arbiter of success, and these devices play right into that,” he told me. “It’s like you’re trying to win at this game instead of living your life. Instead of learning what your body feels like, you have a number.”

      Add a social or competitive component, as in the fitness app Strava or the community features on Peloton, and the feelings of control and empowerment that fitness can foster canmorphquickly into the opposite. Halfway through one marathon training cycle, I discovered a new trick: My watch could measure my overall fitness level, assigning it a number,plottingits change over time and telling me how my levels compared with others’, sorted by gender and age. I craved its approval.

     These devices don’t just record your behavior — they influence it and keep you coming back. You become dependent on external validation. This in itself is nothing new: As with weighing yourselfon a scale, or calculating your body mass index, or measuring your step goals, it’s easier to read a number than it is to know instinctively whether you are healthy. But you can’t quantify your way to good health. The reality is much harder.

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