The Benefits of Being Fit: For Seniors By: Gabriela Corrigan

Taking care of the older generation is something that is important and beneficial to the overall wellness and well-being of those giving the care as much as it is for those receiving the care. With a decrease in social interaction among older adults as they age, this task of giving care can become more difficult for those of us who are trying to help. Increasing independence and activity in older adults can lead to a healthier lifestyle with less physical and mental stressors. For older adults, there are several services that can promote independence and improve overall health, which have the potential to improve both the quality and quantity of an older adult’s lifetime. These services are called Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. Fitbit is a device that tracks a person’s physical activity in a day and sleep patterns through the night. The Fitbit device attaches to a person’s clothing, waste, wrist, or ankle, and tracks the steps taken in a day. These steps can be converted into miles walked and stairs climbed throughout a day. Your weekly and monthly progress is also tracked and saved for you to look back on your growth. This device links to an application (app.) on the smartphone that allows you to physically see the exercise progress and sleep patterns you are getting in a day. This service is proven to improve the overall health of it’s users. The device also allows you to set physical goals for yourself. For example, you can set a goal of 10,000 steps per day, and the device will let you know when you reach that goal each day. MyFitnessPal is a similar service, however it focuses on calculating caloric intake from food consumed in a day through an app. on the smartphone. This app. calculates the number of calories consumed and burned in a day, by assessing the food you have eaten and the exercise you have done. Manually inputting your daily physical routine along with your food intake will allow MyFitnessPal to give you the amount of calories you have left to eat each day, based on your information. This device is mostly meant to help assist in desired weight loss or gain, however it is also a great way to simply monitor calorie intake. The best part? The Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps. can be connected to each other through the smartphone. This means that all of your recorded physical exercise information logged through Fitbit can be linked to the calorie intake that is assessed by MyFitnessPal without having to do it manually. This ensures the most accurate results and better outcomes from these services.

Obesity and diabetes are very prevalent diseases in older adults because of the fact that as we age, we become less active. Metabolism also decreases, meaning the amount of calories burned in a day is reduced significantly in our bodies. One way to control the prevalence of diseases like obesity and diabetes because of a decrease in physical activity and metabolism is to cut back on portion sizes of meals. However, this may not be as easy as it sounds. MyFitnessPal would be able to assist older adults in preventing unnecessary weight gain because as you input the food you ate and the activates you did throughout the day into the app., it tells you how much calories you have left to eat in order to maintain that healthy balance. The Fitbit service would also be beneficial in this type of situation because it would help to motivate the older adult to stay and remain active and burn calories. By setting personal daily goals, one can be encouraged to go out more, take care of themselves, and stay active. The user of these services also would have less manual work to do if they were linked together, because these applications have the ability to connect to each other and exchange information that way.

A longitudinal study titled “Can Fitness Trackers Help Diabetic and Obese Users Make and Sustain Lifestyle Changes?” observed how the overall activity and health of diabetic and obese adults improved over a seven-month period of time by using a Fitbit device. There were 18 participants between the ages of 36 and 73. The study stated that diet alone does not solve the health problems associated with diabetes and obesity. It is physical activity that is really the key to weight loss and a healthier lifestyle (Randriambelonoro, Chen, & Pu, 2017). The participants of this study who used the Fitbit devices consistently throughout the study reported visible health and lifestyle improvements. Lifestyle improvements included a loss of weight, better overall health and a more energized mood (Randriambelonoro et al., 2017). Although the sample size was not very large, making the study not totally generalizable to the entire population, this study is a perfect example of how a fitness device can help to engage older adults in physical activity and health practices.

Another study that was more specific to the older population assessed the accuracy of different hip-worn, wrist-warn, and ankle-worn activity devices among adults 62 and older. Ninety-nine older adult participants were either identified as non-impaired, impaired, cane-using, or walker-using, and were asked to walk at a pace of their choice for roughly 100 meters wearing the devices. One of these devices included the Fitbit One. The accuracy of these devices was measured and then recorded. The results of this experiment turned out to be very precise and the devices gave honest and accurate readings (Floegel, Florez-Pregonero, Hekler, & Buman, 2016). This study and it’s data was beneficial to my conclusions because it is important to know that a product you are purchasing is accurate and successful with little or no error. The accuracy of these products could serve as an incentive to purchase and use them. Accuracy of results is very important in services like Fitbit and MyFitnessPal because it is important that the consumer understands how their behaviors and activities are positively or negatively impacting their life.

Besides physical diseases like obesity and diabetes that can be prevalent among older adults due to lack of activity and resources, mental disorders such as depression and loneliness are also very prevalent in older adults for various reasons. A loss of a job, a hobby, a loved one, or even a feeling of lost personal autonomy can all be very detrimental to one’s health if they go unnoticed or untreated. MyFitnessPal and Fitbit can be useful if an older adult has a mental illness because these services are very interactive and personal. Exercise can mentally and physically stimulate the brain leading to higher brain activation and better performance in all areas of life. By tracking your exercise and food intake throughout the day, the Fitbit and MyFitnessPal become very simple ways to get involved in your own life. Also, by focusing on your health especially at an older age, these devices allow someone to stay engaged in themselves and can help prevent falling into a depressive state.

These services are meant for consumers of all ages, however I think they are beneficial especially to the older population. While they are shown to improve overall health among all users, improving the health of an older adult really has the capability to allow someone to have a longer and more enjoyable life. These services are mostly easy to use, with step-by-step instructions and guidelines. However I do see a concern regarding the use of these services, just because the older generation is not used to technological interactions. A definite limitation to these services could be that an older adult has a harder time maneuvering around the devices and apps. compared to a younger user. Another limitation to these devices would be the accessibility for older adults. With a decrease in physical mobility and eyesight as we age, the ability to put on an ankle-worn device for example, or look at and operate a smartphone screen could pose difficulties for an older adult who is trying to use these items. I am not sure there is really any way to improve these services in order to address these specific needs of seniors, however I think an educational service that would explain exactly how to use and manage services like Fitbit and MyFitnessPal would be beneficial to seniors. I am not too familiar with MyFitnessPal, however speaking from personal experience regarding the Fitbit device and app., it is easy to use and has simple instructions that are clear to the user. I personally love my Fitbit, because it gives accurate results about my activity throughout the day that is very beneficial for me to observe and understand. For example, I walk on average 8 miles a day at work I would have never known this if I didn’t have a Fitbit! I think that older adults can benefit from services like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit just like I have. I believe that these services have the potential to improve the overall quality of life for an older adult by getting them more physically active and engaged in their own health.

 

References

Floegel, T. A., Florez-Pregonero, A., Hekler, E. B., Buman, M. P. (2016). Validation of Consumer-Based Hip and Wrist Activity Monitors in Older Adults With Varied Ambulatory Abilities. The Journal of Gerontology. 229-236. Retrieved April 25, 2017.

Randriambelonoro, M., Chen, Y., Pu, P. (2017). Can Fitness Trackers Help Diabetic and Obese Users Make and Sustain Lifestyle Changes? IEEE Xplore Digital Library. 20-29. Retrieved April 25, 2017.

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