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Can a FitBit help lower your high blood pressure?

A FitBit is one of several brands of health monitors currently available that are marketed as a means of improving your health. To be fair, no specific health claims are made, but improving cardiovascular health, and thus reducing hypertension, is a unique selling proposition for this type of device. Does my FitBit meet this claim?

I was given a FitBit and before receiving it I had not thought about this type of device. I quickly discovered that even to use it, I had to upgrade my smartphone to one running the latest generation of OS, as the device logs and displays data in a smartphone app.

The second thing to understand about this type of fitness tracker is that it only records and displays data. What is crucial is how you use it. The way it is configured also influences the results it produces. The tabloid press recently published the story of a grandmother, who had been given this type of device, she had recorded tens of thousands of steps every day even though she had not gotten up from her couch. It turned out that she was knitting clothes for her grandchildren and the device incorrectly interpreted her movements as walking!

I am right-handed and usually wear a wristwatch on my left arm. I started out using my FitBit on my right arm and it was set up accordingly. It soon became apparent that I was also misreading my arm movements and counting them as if I were walking. Using the device on my left arm and adjusting the settings provided much more accurate data.

The above anecdotes show that what matters is the type of exercise you do. Brisk walking or jogging for 30 to 45 minutes each day has been shown to reduce high blood pressure by up to 10%, and the benefits last about 23 hours. That’s why exercising every day is an important way to reduce high blood pressure. The important thing is that your heart rate must be elevated for a period of at least 30 minutes in order to get the benefit.

The type of health tracker I have counts the number of steps I take in a 24-hour period. It also calculates how many minutes of exercise I have done, how far I have walked and how many calories I have consumed. The more steps you take in a given time, the more calories you burn.

All interesting stuff, but does using this type of device help lower high blood pressure? The answer is that it depends on how you use it. To get the most out of it and lower your high blood pressure, you need an exercise plan and use the device to monitor your progress.

My exercise plan is simple. My goal is to take no less than 10,000 steps each day (about 5 miles), of which 3 miles should be taken in a concerted 45 minute brisk walking session. The rest is made up of shorter periods of exercise.

Where does my health monitor fit into my plan? I have a goal and an exercise plan. The monitor tracks my progress toward my goal and lets me know if I’m on track or if I’m behind. In short, it motivates me to achieve my goal. The app does this through a series of motivational messages displayed on the device, alerting me if I’ve been inactive for an hour, and providing weekly progress reports.

Can a FitBit (or similar device) really help lower high blood pressure? Yes, if used correctly and in conjunction with a proper exercise plan.

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