By Samantha Calder-Sprackman, M.D.
In the spirit of the New Year, like most of us, I have fitness goals that I hope to accomplish in 2014. With all of the hype around activity trackers, I was curious to see if such a device could give me an extra push to achieve my goals! Despite leading an active lifestyle, I hypothesized that seeing feedback on how much activity that I do (or don’t do) day-by-day could motivate me the same way the data on my GPS watch does when running. Fortunately, just before the New Year, I was given the opportunity to try and test the new Polar Loop. Before this opportunity I had not tried any other activity tracker but was excited to get my hands on the new device. Heck, girls are suckers for new accessories!
ACTIVITY TRACKERS 101: THE BASICS
Activity trackers are basically highly evolved cousins of the pedometer. They are smart devices that can measure how much you walk, run, and sleep, as well as the calories that you burn doing these activities. The idea is that if you can track your activity, you will gain insight into your physical lifestyle and subsequently increase your overall activity and caloric expenditure.
There are many activity trackers on the market. They come in different shapes and sizes – clip on devise, watches, and bracelet styles. Popular activity monitors include the Fitbit, the Nike Fuel Band, and the Withings Pulse. Recently, Polar has lunched the Polar Loop Activity Tracker, which unlike it’s competitors, is marketed as a device that can cater to BOTH inactive individuals and the more advance exerciser (like me!). The Polar Loop provides the standard activity and calorie tracking as the other devices but is unique in that it also offers the option to sync to the H6 or H7 Polar Heart Sensor Transmitter (not included) to track the intensity of your workouts.
MY EXPERIENCE: THE SCOOP ON THE LOOP
I have worn the Loop non-stop for the past 10 days. Although my primary means of exercise is usually running, I like to dabble in other forms of physical activity recreationally. Over the last 10 days I have done lots of activities: running, (speed work, long runs, slow runs, treadmill runs and outdoor runs), spinning (on a stationary bike), exercise fitness classes, snowshoeing and swimming workouts. I have also worn the Loop during rest days and during workdays, where I work as an Emergency Medicine Resident at a busy hospital.
After an intimate 10 days with the Polar Loop on my wrist, there are MANY details about the product that I could speak to. For the purpose of this review I am going to keep my feedback simple. For an impressive and very detailed explanation on all features of the loop please check out the following: DCRaimnaker.com.
FUNCTIONALITY: The Polar Loop is a wristband that is worn 24/7. It can distinguish 5 different levels of activity from lying on the couch to light chores around the house to high intensity exercise. It tracks your steps, sleep, and total calories burned throughout the day and displays it on a screen found on the wristband. The Polar Loop calorie tracker also takes into account your basal metabolic rate and your caloric expenditure from activity. I particularly enjoyed this feature and found it useful when trying to figure out approximately how many calories I should be consuming to maintain or lose weight. As we know, to lose weight, calories out must exceed calories in.
The information provided by the Loop is individualized to you. When you set up of the device using Polar’s Free Online tracking service, you enter your body weight, your height, and your daily activity goal based on your typical daily level of activity. Your body parameters and your activity level are flexible and can easily be adjusted by using the online tracking service. After four days of wearing the tracker and hitting my activity goals, I increased my activity goal to up the challenge!
The Loop also features an ‘inactivity alert,’ which will occur if you have been sitting for over one hour. This nifty feature is through the Polar Flow Mobile App (not the wrist band) and can be easily turned on/off so it does not go off during important work meetings! This nifty feature can be easily turned on/off via the Polar Flow Mobile App so it does not go off during important work meetings! For the most part, I kept the alarm feature off but enjoyed looking back at my day to see how many ‘inactivity alerts’ I had.
At any point in the day, you can plug your Polar Loop into your computer and see the breakdown of your activity – how much time you spent at what activity level. If you are looking for a detailed breakdown on the fly, Polar also has an easy to use app that you can sync via blue tooth with your device (warning: the sync did not always work for me). My plan of attack was usually to wear the Loop all day and plug it in at night to see my daily activity breakdown. I really like how daily activity can be visually displayed for the entire month!
AESTHETICS: What can I say? Polar makes beautiful products! The Polar Loop is a sleek black WATERPROOF bracelet that has a small screen on the front. It has a single button to the right of the screen that you can press to scroll through your data. When you are not looking at your data, the screen does not light up and the loop camouflages as a bracelet. I must say that I think the Polar Loop looks much prettier than it’s competitors. I’ve even got a couple compliments from people at work on the look of my “new bracelet”!
MOTIVATION: We cannot talk about an activity tracker without touching on this feature. It works. Mission accomplished. I was skeptical at first but wearing a band that tracks everything you do definitely adds accountability and motivation. At any point during the day, you can press the button on the bracelet and it will tell you using a bar graph how much further you have until you reach your activity goal. It also tells you how long you must run, walk, or do light activity on your feet to accomplish your goal. I really enjoyed being able to look at the watch and see that I only had x amount of activity left to accomplish my daily goal!! The best part of accomplishing the goal is the visual of fire works that goes off on the screen!
Wearing the Polar Loop at work was also eye opening. I had a misconception that I walk WAY more than I think during my workday. I thought that I would easily meet my activity goals but on days where I only worked, I was actually unable to reach my target goal. In order to hit my activity goal, I had to get my workout in. Talk about motivation!
SET UP: Despite being excited to try the new device, I found the set up quite intimidating. Admittedly, I am not very tech savvy but the box sat on my desk for a good week before I gained the courage to open it up and go through the setup. The Polar Loop packaging is lean. Inside, you find the polar bracelet and the cord to plug it into your computer. Before you get started using the activity tracker, you must 1) assemble the bracelet using a disposable ruler to wrap around your wrist and scissors to cut it to size (be careful not to cut it to short), and 2) plug the Loop into the computer using a USB to go through the set up of the online software. Overall the set up took me a total of about an hour and was not that bad. The longest part of the set up was ensuring that the bracelet had the perfect fit. Had I have known that I would only need to budget an hour for the total set up of the device, I likely would have got to it sooner.
ACCURACY: I have read some critiques about the accuracy of the step tracker for the Polar Loop. Honestly, I did not really notice the inaccuracies and mostly went on how far I had to go until I reached my daily goal. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters if the step tracker is slightly off as long as you aim to reach that activity goal!
That said, I did find frustrating that the accelerometer of the activity tracker HUGELY underestimated my activity during a spin class. On a day that I only attended a spin class, I was not able to meet my activity goal. However, when I used the heart rate monitor that can be bought separately, it tracked my cycling activity more accurately and I actually met my activity goal. I also found that the Polar Loop overestimated my activity during fitness classes where I used my arms a lot so I had to keep that in mind when looking at my daily activity summary and caloric expenditure.
As someone who already leads an active lifestyle, I was initially skeptical if there was a role for an activity tracker in my life. After giving the Loop a solid trial, I can admit that my perspective on this has changed! Although wearing the activity monitor is not the sole motivator in whether or not I lead an active life, I really enjoy seeing the data and breakdown of my daily activity. On days when I need that extra push to get my workout in, it works as a strong motivator! It feels good to see the fireworks go off once I’ve reached my daily activity goal!
Although I would caution people about the inaccuracies of the activity tracker if cycling is your main form of exercise (and if you do not want to invest in the heart rate monitor), the Polar Loop definitely works very well for me as a runner! I have enjoyed wearing the device these past couple weeks and will be continuing to wear it throughout my spring training long after this review. I may even purchase it as a gift for some active people in my life at a price point of 99$ (way cheaper than a GPS watch)! Despite the device not being perfect, I think this may be the beginning of a regular workout partnership.