From wearable devices to phone apps, activity trackers can help lower your cancer risk by motivating you to be more active.
“The ability to monitor your own exercise behaviors is an effective, research-backed strategy to increase physical activity,” says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.
“Just recognizing how much you move can help you make healthy changes,” Basen-Engquist says.
The most popular activity trackers are wristbands, watches and phone apps, she says. Most of these trackers log the number of steps you take each day as well as other exercises.
By encouraging you to increase your activity, these technologies can help you reduce your risk of cancer in the following ways:
- Research has linked excess body fat to several forms of cancer. Moving more can help you cut down on unhealthy fat and lower your risk.
- No matter what you weigh, regular exercise appears to lower your risk for certain forms of cancer, including colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers.
- Long periods of sitting with little movement have been tied to higher rates of some cancers, including colon and endometrial cancers. Activity trackers can help remind you to get up and move around, which may help lower your risk.
How Activity Trackers Can Motivate You
There are several ways activity trackers can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle changes, Basen-Engquist says.
- They get you thinking about exercise. If you don’t work out regularly, it can be hard to change your habits. Like a string tied around your finger, activity trackers can remind you to get moving.
- They provide data and insight. Understanding when and how much you move makes it simpler for you to increase your activity and break up long periods of inactivity.
- They enforce healthy behaviors. It can be hard to spot how you improve when it comes to exercise. But with a tracker, you can see how many steps you took or miles you logged last week—and do just a little more this week. “This ability to see progress is inspiring,” Basen-Engquist says.
- They’re fun. Whether you’re a runner or just hoping to walk a little bit more each day, these technologies can help make exercise more like a game. “Seeing the number of miles you walked or a map of the route you ran can be fun,” Basen-Engquist says.
- They help build bonds with others committed to exercise. While this won’t appeal to everyone, many activity trackers are easy to spot. As a result, they show that exercise is important to you. They also can help you start conversations with other wearers about your goals and best practices.
Choosing the Best Technology For You
There are many devices and apps to choose from. So finding the right one can seem challenging. But it doesn’t have to be.
Basen-Engquist suggests starting with a free or inexpensive phone app. That way, you can find the one that works for you before spending money on a wearable device.
Whether you’re a runner, swimmer, hiker or yogi, there’s probably an app designed specifically for your favorite activity.
“Think about what motivates you,” Basen-Engquist says. “Try to find an app that matches those motivations.”
Some apps allow you to compete with other users. Others provide access to a support community, and are more about encouragement than competition. Some are all about stats or numbers, while others focus on graphs and charts.
If you’re already an active person, a wristband or GPS watch can help you better monitor your exercise activity. It also can help you identify your current habits, making it easier for you to push yourself and establish new goals, Basen-Engquist says.
For example: If you ran six miles last week, or took an average of 6,000 steps each day, knowing that can help you shoot for seven miles or 7,000 steps this week, she says.
In the end, it’s really all about empowering you to form healthier habits.
“Being aware of your behavior is first step to changing it for the better,” Basen-Engquist says.