Can smartwatches influence your attitude towards health and fitness?

Deborah Gilbert

Deborah Gilbert

is using the Garmin Vivoactive HR

I'm pretty dismissive in general about all these gadgets that we use these days to run our lives.

Garmin VivoactiveAbout Deborah

Deborah is a self-proclaimed technofobe with a very busy schedule. As CEO of Bowel and Cancer Research, she has become more aware of the role that lifestyle plays in staying healthy. She doesn’t class herself as a fitness fiend, but likes to run with her dog. You can find out more about Deborah and Bowel and Cancer Research do in this interview, Deborah has also participated in our Bowel Cancer Awareness podcast, where she discusses a range of topics within the bowel cancer arena with our panel.

Find out how Deborah has rated her Garmin smartwatch

Being of a certain age, coupled with my role as CEO of a medical research charity, Bowel & Cancer Research, I have become increasingly aware of the role that lifestyle plays in staying healthy and avoiding disease.In common with probably a lot of other woman, on hitting my 40s I resolved to keep as fit as I could for as long as I could, my main motivation: being a single mum of three. 

Dr Ranj and DeborahAs a result I took up running – though jogging would be a better description – and I found I really enjoyed it! This really surprised me, particularly because, as a young women it was an activity that I loathed; the very most I would ever do would be to run for a bus, which would remind me that I never wanted to take up running. 

However, knowing I spent most of my time at my job in front of a screen and thinking to congratulate myself with a puppy if I could keep it up, I dusted off some very old trainers. Nowadays I run pretty regularly (about 3 to 4 days a week) covering around 5K a time with my dog – yes I got that puppy! I love it; it helps me think, de-stress and keep fairly trim. It also helps me manage the guilt of a couple of large glasses of wine at weekends. 

I am nowhere near a fitness fiend, but I appreciate the value of exercise in keeping mentally as well as physically fit. Combined with a reasonable diet, including veggies and fruit, and keeping red and processed meat to a minimum, I feel that I am doing the right thing (mostly). Something that I don’t do is use any kind of tech, to tell me how fast I’m going, how many calories I’ve burned, whether I look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards and that’s why I’ve joined this trial. I’m intrigued. 

I’ve no idea what to expect from the smart watch. I would say that I’m pretty dismissive in general about all these gadgets that we use these days to run our lives. Will wearing a smart watch make me any more determined to go “just that bit further or that bit faster”? Who knows? Watch this space!

Believe it or not, I am not wearing my watch at the present time. Could I have seen this coming at the start? Yes of course, but I was determined to give it a go. And still am.

So, what’s gone wrong - apart from looking like someone in the community on a tag – the “watch” is a large, black rectangular object – ugly and difficult to work clothes around; pathetic I know.

Deborah and PoppyLet’s go back to the beginning. After taking delivery I found it difficult to launch the associated app on my phone so I uploaded it onto my laptop instead. Though I was quite interested in all the apparent features, I’m just not bothered enough to use it properly. My laissez-faire attitude was entrenched when I uploaded my run time and tried to change miles into kilometres. The app proceeded to do something very odd and eventually recorded me taking more than 10 minutes to do a KM, which, let’s face it, is walking! Life is too short.

I think that my issue is, I don’t have anything to compete with. I run with my dog, which means I rarely get a good pace going consistently because I am always having to wait for her, find her or am otherwise distracted by something that she’s up to. I’m not in training for anything. I think that if I could exercise without distractions I may well have a different attitude to it and use it much more to try to improve times and speeds and to extend my running a bit further. However, I am so disorganised that, when I do go out with it on, I often forget to start timing my run, or forget to stop timing it.

I was intrigued the other day though when the phone faithfully recorded almost 20,000 steps and I felt very smug for a little while. I am also intrigued as to how it knows when you’re going uphill as it recorded flights of stairs when I was on holiday in Cornwall and trapesing up cliffs on a regular basis.

So, I guess where I am with it at this point is that truthfully it hasn’t changed my exercise habits at all but I quite like the fact that it records your heart rate and distance travelled. For me, as a watch it’s pretty ugly so to wear all time is not a must. And I don’t know about anyone reading this, but I really don’t feel that I need another thing in my life that beeps, buzzes or pings when you least expect it.

In preparation for this, my final blog entry on my experience with the Garmin Vivoactive, I revisited my other two blog posts. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, getting me to take to any smartwatch, so I perhaps should have apologised to Garmin in advance. My attitude at the end of the project is pretty much exactly the same as my attitude at the beginning: boringly ambivalent. 

Deborah final entry

The watch is ok. I haven’t made use of its numerous features: I still don’t quite know what it could add to a game of golf for example. I have, though, worn it regularly for my running and I know that my best time for 5k is 31 minutes when I do about 6+ minutes per km (dog willing).

It has made me slightly more competitive against myself. I can understand how, if you’re training for an event, or if you have a fitness goal it could help. And, if you want to analyse everything, comparing how you did yesterday to today, what was your fastest lap and so on, it’s the tech for you. 

The thing is, I don’t. I know my running route, I know roughly how far 5K is and I want to do it around 3 times a week to keep myself reasonably fit. I know when I’m walking a lot and when I’m not so I don’t really feel the need to know exactly how many steps I’ve done. Does anyone? I guess if you are sitting in an office all day and struggling to get in any exercise,  knowing that you’ve done 1,000 steps to the bus stop may be heartening, but once you know it, you know it. Is it really worth attaching yourself to the watch in order to confirm it every day?

Call me vain, but I can’t get past the fact that it is a really ugly piece of kit, and looks like a community tag. This is particularly bad for me as I have awfully skinny wrists. No doubt it would look a whole lot better on a man. It’s so bulky that wearing clothes creates issues. Not such a problem in the summer when t-shirts are the order of the day, but when you’re trying to push your arm into something long sleeved, and then get that into a jacket, it can become really awkward.

I can honestly say that – ugliness of the item aside – I don’t think I would have got on any better with the other watches. I am a self-confessed technophobe as stated in my first blog, so the Garmin had an uphill struggle to covert me to anything other. I’m afraid it’s really only confirmed my attitude towards these things, and it took me a lot less time that we had on this experiment to reach that conclusion, so I guess I wasn’t a great subject.

I do wonder, however, whether anyone really uses this type of tech over the long term as part of their fitness/lifestyle regime. Being the Chief Executive of a charity that funds research into bowel cancer, I am fully on board with encouraging physical activity and healthy eating. If these things help others embrace the lifestyle, then who am I to complain?