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Can Your Wearable Device Really Help You Lose Weight And Get Fit?

Every year, scores of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get fit. And to ensure this year is really the year, many rely on technology for a boost. They sign up for gym memberships and boast about their workouts on social media. They purchase and proudly display the hottest health wearables like the FitBit, Fuelband, Jawbone, Misfit or Garmin.

Unfortunately, as the holidays fade away, so do many well-intentioned resolutions. By February, a third of all resolution-makers have given up on their goals. And although 10 percent of adults now own a fitness tracker, we can predict that over 30 percent of new wearers will abandon the device by the middle of the year.


Of course, it’s not technology’s fault our resolutions fall short. Exercising more and modifying what we eat depends on what’s inside us – good, old-fashioned willpower – much more than what’s on our wrists or Facebook walls. But before you lose hope or throw away your device, try these proven approaches to help you reach your 2015 goals.

1. Trade in your unrealistic expectations for specific, achievable goals
Unrealistic expectations almost always guarantee failure. Last year, bestselling author Chip Heath perfectly described the problem they pose to our health: “Exercise is particularly hard because we have a cultural picture of it that’s just unrealistic. We see ourselves dressing up in black spandex and going to a gym and glistening attractively as we exercise.”

Few fitness trackers or health apps have helped people commit to healthier lifestyles in the long run. Will 2015 be any different?

Of course, few of us resemble the picture-perfect models we see in fitness magazines. And few of us can commit the time needed to meet our expectations.

Imagine having gained a few pounds over the holidays you suddenly resolve to get up at 5 a.m. every day to run 5 miles. You’ll most likely fall short of this new-found expectation and quit before spring.

That’s why realistic goals are critical. One oft-mentioned goal is walking 10,000 steps per day. And the health benefits of doing this daily are many: increased metabolism, lower blood pressure, stronger heart and lungs, etc. But 10,000 steps a day turns out to be more than some people can make good on, at least in the beginning.

So, why not first commit to walking for 30 minutes each day? And if walking 30 minutes all at once seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller increments. Five-minute stretches of exercise done six times a day has the same net impact as 30 minutes all at once. Park a little further away from your final destination and walk five minutes in each direction. Then take a 10 minute walk during your lunch break with a friend. And then get up at halftime or between shows to walk 10 minutes around the block. Just like that, you’ve walked 30 minutes.

If losing weight is your goal, try making one or two small changes instead of a complete dietary overhaul. Eliminate one sugary soda a day from your diet and you could lose as much as a half-pound per week. Unlike unrealistic expectations, achievable daily goals help you form new habits. After all, goals can fit into your lifestyle. Unrealistic expectations only compete with it.

2. Confront reality every day
In the same way that habit improves the likelihood of success, neglecting a commitment increases the probability you’ll miss your goal the next day.

When goals exist only in your head, it’s easy to forget whether you’ve skipped a day or two. But when you stare down an empty space in your fitness log, you’ll likely resolve not to let the whitespace double the next day. Without that visual reminder, a lost day can turn into a lost week, month or year.

Goals are essential, but you are far more likely to complete them when you record your progress and confront your failures. Whether written on a piece of paper and taped to the fridge or recorded electronically in your smartphone, recording your activity creates accountability. And when you check off each day’s success,   you experience an immediate reward: positive reinforcement.

3. To lose weight, pay attention to both sides of the equation
If you want to lose weight, you must understand and pay attention to both calories taken in and calories burned. The equation for losing weight is fairly simple: burn more calories than you consume.

As Americans, we tend to underestimate the number of calories in the food we eat. If you don’t believe it, just guess how many calories are in a typical fast-food combo meal. Then look it up.

Indeed, math is important here. Eat 300 fewer calories and walk 3 miles each day, and you’ll lose close to a pound per week – and 20 pounds before the middle of the year.

Wearable devices and smartphone apps can assist you. They can tell you whether you’ve covered the 3-mile distance and help you track the calories you consume. The weight-loss equation may be simple, but losing weight is hard. Use your wearable device and smartphone to measure your progress, make exercise a consistent habit and celebrate your daily successes.

4. Force the habit by committing to others
Fitness trackers themselves are good for one thing: tracking. But they can’t roll you out of bed or put your walking shoes on for you. You need to make exercise a habit.

We all know old habits die hard. But we sometimes underestimate how hard it is to form new ones. According to a study from University College London, it can take as long as 66 days to form a new habit.

That’s why one of the best ways to form (or force) a fitness habit is by committing to others.

It’s hard to hold yourself accountable. But when you’re accountable to someone else – say, to meet a friend outside your house at a certain time on Saturday morning – you’re less likely to flake out. We are social creatures and we care what others think of us. We don’t like letting our friends and family down.

By joining a walking or running group, you commit not only to your own fitness but to the well-being of others. And if you’re schedule’s too unpredictable for a morning or evening running group, make a digital commitment that works with your calendar.

There’s a whole host of fitness apps that let you rely on others for motivation while engaging in friendly competition. And many of them link up with your wearable device. Socializing fitness creates positive reinforcement and releases powerful neurotransmitters in your brain that lead to lifelong habits.

Over time, as exercise becomes a habit, the experience shifts from something that’s difficult to complete to something that’s painful to miss. This is the power of a positive habit.

And after a while, without knowing how it happened, you’ll find yourself reaching new fitness milestones as you increase your distance and speed.

Good habits form when you set goals, write them down, confront reality every day and make commitments to others. The wearable device you received as a holiday present or the health app you downloaded on your smart phone can help. But the essential keys to a healthier 2015 reside in you.

Dr. Robert Pearl is the CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, a certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and Stanford University professor. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertPearlMD.

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