For people like me who live with diabetes, there’s nothing particularly new about the concept of tracking numbers associated with our health. For us, keeping close tabs on blood sugar levels, for example, may be a part of life. But it seems that for the general public, the appeal of collecting a steady stream of health-related numbers has caught on big time in the form of wearable fitness tracking devices.
The popularity of these wearable activity trackers – such as those offered by Fitbit®, Jawbone®, NikeFuel® and Misfit Wearables1, just to name a few – has increased sharply since they started appearing on the mass market about five years ago. As many as one in ten American adults now owns a fitness wearable, according to a recent report.
Chances are good you’ve seen people wearing them: the devices that use sensors and algorithms to track individual health trends, such as how many steps you take, how many calories you burn or how much of your time sleeping is considered high quality. The idea here – which has the sci-fi sounding name “Quantified Self” – is that this information may help people make healthier choices and create healthier habits. (If you are thinking about making changes to your meal plan or fitness routine, be sure to check first with your diabetes care team.)
I did wonder how a wearable device would fit into a life with type 1 diabetes that, like mine, already requires some gadgets. Based on my own experience, I was skeptical.
I stopped wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) a few years ago. While some people who live with diabetes praise the CGM as a way to help prevent high blood glucose levels, as well as ensure lows don’t go too low – seeing that I was getting high readings temporarily, even though most of my day-to-day levels were in range, made it a challenge for me to feel relaxed and in control. Plus, I sometimes worried about misplacing the CGM, which I often clipped to my purse strap. Unlike my insulin pump, the CGM wasn’t tethered to me and might get lost if I wasn’t careful.
To better understand the appeal of wearables for someone living with diabetes, I asked Ann Bartlett, a massage therapist based in Alexandria, Virginia, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 45 years. She has been wearing a Misfit Shine™ since last fall, and says it helps track her daily exercise as well as help improve her sleep quality.
Bartlett says she chose the Shine because it can be pinned to a shirt instead of other devices that strap to the wrist. The Shine has helped her realize that simply doing her job – which entails standing on her feet, going up and down stairs in her office and walking to and from her car – wasn’t as much cardiovascular activity as she’d originally thought. To get the amount of exercise she wanted, she says she “needed to add more days of physically putting in three to five miles of walking.”
As well as staying on top of her fitness levels, Bartlett says she has been able to create a specific routine to trigger her body to relax at bedtime, and has been keeping track of her hours of restorative deep sleep.
Like a CGM, the accuracy of a wearable is focused more on trends, not the precise accuracy of minute-by-minute records, says Bartlett. “What matters is that you’re getting a ballpark figure.” Uploading the data to your smart phone or computer may help you analyze where you are hitting your goals and where more effort is needed, she adds.
Importantly, she says wearing an activity tracker did not make her feel like she had another variable to monitor – in addition to food intake, blood sugar, and insulin levels.
And some of the device manufacturers may make that even easier going forward: Fitbit, for example, now has a syncing feature with GoMeals® (powered by CalorieKing)2, which lets a person living with diabetes to track both activity levels and the nutritional values for the foods they eat.
I now see why using this latest technology is appealing for some. As Barlett says, “Your body tells a story if you have the devices to understand it.” Personally, I am eagerly awaiting the all-in-one integrated insulin pump, glucose meter, CGM and fitness wearable. A girl can dream, can’t she?
Cheryl Alkon has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1977. She is the author of Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. A longtime writer and researcher, her work appears in numerous online and print publications. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. Find her online at CherylAlkon.com.
Ann Bartlett is a paid patient consultant for Sanofi US.
1Misfit Wearables is a registered trademark.
2GoMeals® is a Sanofi US trademark. CalorieKing provides the database service that powers GoMeals through a partnership with Sanofi US. CalorieKing is a registered trademark of CalorieKing Wellness Solutions, Inc.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience