Can smartwatches influence your attitude towards health and fitness?

Alex Zylko

Alex Zylko

is using the Samsung Gear S3

I feel the smartwatch could be of benefit to create the sense of competition and drive against myself.

Samsung GearAbout Alex

Alex is a born and bred North Londoner and works as an events and communications officer for Bowel & Cancer Research. Outside of work he likes to keep active by cycling to work and is also a keen runner. Alex has got caught up in the mass participation exercise movement, joining Project Awesome across different areas of London at 6.30am and Midnight Runners at 7.30pm taking in the fantastic Thames-side views.

Find out how Alex has rated his Samsung smartwatch.

Alex entry 1 I consider myself to be a healthy individual. Granted I will find myself sharing a few beers with friends after work on a Friday and my attitude towards dinner leaves a lot to be desired after I’ve had a tiring day, but I am a very active person.
When we were children, me and my siblings were cajoled, bribed and sometimes forced, to attend the local swimming team and my mother’s discerning attitude to missing a training session, set the imprint for my relationship with fitness now.

I may not have become the world beating front crawler my mother wanted, but I keep active daily. I cycle to and from work – for fitness, economic and ‘arm pit in your face’ reasons. I also play 11-aside football.

Additionally in the last year or so, I’ve become involved with the mass participation fitness movement through groups like Project Awesome and Midnight Runners. They engage with all sorts of moral boosting tactics from blaring electronic music at their willing recruits, to enforced hi-five sessions and mass chants - something that I felt slightly uncomfortable with, an ‘Americanised’ style of encouragement (the movement began in Boston). I now relish the high-fives and fist pumps, although I realise now these aren’t appropriate for all scenarios in life (worked out through trial and error).  

I’ve realised that when I work out alone, I lack the same drive that I have when exercising with other people. These fitness events always encourage me to keep a high intensity throughout the workouts, something I lack when engaging with fitness programmes individually, this is certainly something that I want to address. I have decided to enter the Barcelona marathon in 2018, this will be my first marathon experience and I understand that in order to ensure that I am on the correct trajectory with my training, my individual sessions will be just as important. 

This is where I feel the use of a wearable device could be of benefit, to create the same sense of competition and drive against myself. I have spoken to friends who own similar devices and they say that the daily goals will encourage them to get off from a bus 1 stop earlier or have a casual walk around the block if they are close to their target. This idea of achievement through mini goals (whoever celebrated a walk around the clock?), is something that I feel would benefit me and I look forward to the experience.

The first week I mainly found the watch to be a distraction, fiddling about with the different clock faces, checking the weather, using the connection with my phone to make calls and feel a bit like a secret agent (without any of the other martini swigging; death defying; globetrotting activities that 007 has). There have been a couple of times where I forgot to charge the watch and the days where NO steps were taken would sit starkly against the other days where my step targets were met.

Alex running gear Admittedly there are several features that I find mildly annoying, the condescending ‘good job/you’re doing great’ messages that accompany any decision I take to move or workout or the buzzing if I’ve been sitting still for a period of time. I understand the point of this buzzing – to galvanise the idle office worker’s routine, but it does tend to annoy more than encourage. It also has become impossible to inconspicuously check the time, creating awkward situations in the cinema, overly long conversations and team meetings.

Whilst the watch hasn’t necessarily impacted my opinion of exercise in general, I still run regularly, I still attend the mass engagement exercise classes, the noticeable difference is my attitude to walking. My daily targets have become goals to achieve everyday and when I search for a destination that I have to get to my first thought is the distance it would be to walk, so that I gain that “step count achieved” message - cue mini-fistpump.

I’ve also decided to sign up for my first marathon in Barcelona next March. I’ve always wanted to participate to a marathon but haven't actually applied so far. I don’t think this decision was influenced by the wearable device, with my role at Bowel & Cancer Research I’ve been liaising daily with inspirational fundraisers who are taking part in phenomenal challenges from the Copenhagen Ironman to running 4 ultra-marathons in 4 days. You feel a mixture of inspiration at their stories and also a sense of being a fraud, giving fundraising advice from the comfort of my comfy office chair.

Since this decision I have used the watch more for tracking my fitness statistics –I’ve started running to work twice a week (about 10K) and have been checking my heart rate following the exercise, so I do recognise there is an impact from the device on my attitude to fitness.

The first week I mainly found the watch to be a distraction, fiddling about with the different clock faces, checking the weather, using the connection with my phone to make calls and feel a bit like a secret agent (without any of the other martini swigging; death defying; globetrotting activities that 007 has). There have been a couple of times where I forgot to charge the watch and the days where NO steps were taken would sit starkly against the other days where my step targets were met.

Alex final entry I see myself as a healthy individual, as I pointed out in my first entry. Exercise is important to me and I enjoy exercising, so I didn’t feel using a wearable device would cause any great shift in mentality but I was excited to use it and approached the idea with an open mind.

There is the danger of keeping stationary at your desk for hours at a time when having an office job. I think we’re all guilty of this despite health and safety in the workplace continually alluding to the importance of being active. I have become more aware of this with the watch because it tells me so. After an hour of being stationary it will flash up and encourage me to get moving with an image of a shoe snoozing- not quite personal trainer, but it works. I must admit, a lot of the time I ignore it, however I am getting better at responding to its call by grabbing some water, walking to the post room, going outside for some air (it’s been a very mild September and October). 

On my 30th birthday in September I went to Lisbon with my family and the watch came too. If you haven’t been, Lisbon is an incredibly hilly place so walking around the beautiful city is a moderate-high intensity workout at times.

There was a great moment at the end of one long day when my watch sent me a congratulatory message that I had smashed my previous record for the number of steps ascended, by some considerable distance - 64 floors! I could tell the watch was impressed. I kind of enjoy the mini-fist bump feeling of setting a new personal best, even if it is for walking up and down floors! 

Samsung watch

The marathon training is on-going and the watch has been a part of it: tracking my time, monitoring my heartrate, sending my cursory ‘well-done messages’ once I’ve completed my run (which I could probably do without). But the wearable device is certainly an integral part of the training- when running with my friend who is doing the marathon as well, he constantly asks me  “how long have we been going now?” “what’s your heart rate?”. I can tell he’s impressed.

As mentioned in my previous entry, the biggest change to my mind set has been my attitude to walking. I enjoy going for walks in my downtime, but during the week I would take the easy option and jump on the underground to get to my destination. Now I am more resolute with myself to walk to my destinations, so we achieve that vital step target.

There have been a few scenarios where I’ve realised en route to a meeting that I’ve underestimated the length of time it would take to walk and end up arriving at my destination, slightly flushed, slightly out of breath and slightly damp, not really an ideal image to transmit. 

Do I feel healthier now? Ultimately I feel very similar, apart from the added steps I take per day I exercise a similar amount, I still eat copious amounts of food, (some healthy choices, some not so much), I still drink enough to feel slightly embarrassed when a doctor asks for a rough weekly estimate. But I have promised myself to address this next and feel confident I can become the paradigm of health and maybe my desire to become that image is influenced by a device which can give instant updates related to certain aspects of my being that I wouldn’t have even thought of checking before.