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From activity trackers and headsets to smart phones and smart watches, through which a host of apps can be accessed, wearable devices are increasingly being employed during workouts. Picture for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit:

Dubai: With the 30-day Dubai Fitness Challenge well underway, doctors and fitness experts have warned residents against becoming over-dependent on tech devices to monitor their movements.

From activity trackers and headsets to smart phones and smart watches, through which a host of apps can be accessed, wearable devices are increasingly being employed during workouts.

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Dr Amith Kumar Krishna Image Credit: Supplied

As Dr Amith Kumar Krishna, specialist orthopaedics at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, said, “In the present world of busy lifestyles, many people lose track of their health. The tracking devices make people aware of their patterns around food, exercise, sleep or stress and can help them take action to improve their health -- there is valid research to show that simply tracking your habits can inspire healthy behaviour change.”

However, there is an underlying danger that comes with over-dependence. Dr Krishna said, “The devices may also become anxiety devices for a few who are obsessed with their health, which is a bad thing. This compulsive self-quantification may be doing more harm than good.”

Can one size fit all?

The downside with many apps and gadgets, he noted, is that they offer homogenous solutions. “A problem with many wearable devices is that they use one-size-fits-all targets (like a goal of taking 10,000 steps per day), which aren’t necessarily based on scientific evidence or easy for non-health professionals to interpret for themselves. As a result, the devices can lead to injury if the activity type or amount aren’t something a person is physically capable of doing, or if the device data causes them to push too far. Thus, these gadgets are good for people - provided they are used in a proper and smart way.”

He said over-dependence on tech feedback can also have negative effects on mental health as it can quickly become obsessive. “We have become a world that is all about quantifying every aspect of our lives in order to feel worthy. The message is that if you are not enough until you reach your goal, it can create a drive beyond motivation to a level of obsession,” Dr Krishna added.

‘Hazards’ of headphones

Excessive use of headphones to listen to music or podcasts while exercising also has its dangers, said another doctor.

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Dr Ahmad Al Fikry Image Credit: Supplied

According to Dr Ahmed Al Fikry, ENT specialist at Prime Health Group, headsets, whether of the Bluetooth or wired variety, have serious ramifications if used indiscriminately. “These days, we are increasingly seeing youngsters with high frequency hearing loss. Headsets amplify sound which can harm the inner ear (c cochlear and hearing cells) which can result in a permanent hearing loss. Patients also complain of ringing in the ear which impacts their personality. The amplified sounds can also affect the brain through the nerve from the cochlear.”

Besides, he said headphones can be a source of infection when they are shared by different people. “Not just that, they can cause infections even if they are used by the same person if they are not cleaned regularly.”

He said people using headphones tend to get isolated from their surroundings. While this can have social repercussions, it can also physical harm to the person who is at risk of injuring himself since he is preoccupied and cannot hear oncoming traffic or any triggers around him.

Distraction is a concern

Fitness advocates are all for wearable devices, as long as they are not distracting.

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Eva Clark, fitness trainer Image Credit: Supplied

“There’s nothing wrong with using technology, but if they take away from the real focus, then there’s a problem,” said Eva Clark, fitness icon from Abu Dhabi, who uses a lot of tools herself in her fitness regimes.

“As much as they can be motivating, they can also be a big distraction. Technology can be a friend or foe, depending on how you use it. We see a lot of people poring over their phones in the gym, which is a complete waste of time. But used correctly, these devices can help monitor your progress, or even enable virtual training,” she said.

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Satyen Babla Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai-based dance and fitness studio DANS founder Satyen Babla agrees. “Trackers these days are connected with multiple devices and are compatible with other users, so they can be used to a great advantage to keep track of your activity, better your performance and stay connected with others. The problem arises when the focus strays from fitness and distracting notifications come into the picture.”

He said DANS’ cardio-based classes, which cover dance forms like Zumba, Power Bhangra, Bollyfit and Power Gharba, encourage not just fitness but also social interaction.

“There was a time when people took to these dance forms because it made them happy and they could socialise with others. Today, they are also considered as fitness regimes – and if wearable devices help them achieve their goals, that’s not a bad thing.”

Neha Gaggar, managing partner of Rushaway, organiser of Friday’s Mercedes Benz Challenge, 40-50 per cent of which involves fitness components, said, “Devices help provide people with data and analytics. But in the absence of these devices, one should not get lost. Exercising should be fun – it’s all about staying fit, feeling good and being healthy - you can’t always be counting your steps, calories or hours of sleep.”

Dos and don’ts with devices

  • • Research and understand your fitness tracker
  • • Think about what you’re hoping to get out of your device — do you want it to track your sleep? Calories? Steps ?
  • • When you finally do get your device, take time to read through the information and check if that device is suited to your needs or not
  • • Gather your health data from the gadget but do develop your own healthy habits and maintain the regime
  • • Never totally rely on the gadgets to track your health
  • • Understand your body and its needs
  • • Self assessment is important, otherwise you will end up hurting yourself by overdoing an exercise
  • • Never get stressed out with the gadgets, use it as a friendly support