How did you sleep last night? Did you complete your daily activity goals? How long should you recover before your next workout? Many people look for answers to such questions about wellbeing through a measuring device that provides data and analysis, such as a fitness tracker or smart watch. “It’s good to be interested in your own wellbeing, but taking measurements isn’t absolutely necessary,” says Academy Research Fellow Laura Karavirta. 

Measurement data can provide a lot of information about us, but not everything. Wellbeing measurements use technology to measure things about your body – usually, your heart rate and body movement. At its best, the measurements can be a long-term support for your wellbeing. For an athlete or fitness enthusiast, it can also support their training planning. 

The measurements are tools for improving wellbeing and developing performance, but they are not a solution or treatment for a condition. They can help us understand the state of some of the factors that affect our wellbeing, such as our physical fitness, daily activity, and recovery state. 

Measurements highlight factors affecting our wellbeing 

These measurements sometimes make us wonder if they distance people from their own experiences and feelings of wellbeing. However, the opposite may be true: we learn more about ourselves when we pay attention to our bodies’ reactions to everyday events. As physical work becomes less common, people may be distanced from their bodies’ physical capabilities when they do not reach the limits of their physical performance in their daily life.

It is also possible to grow numb to fatigue if it is a persistent normal state. 

Changing your own behaviour usually requires you to first notice the problem, and then monitor progress. By measuring things like your physical fitness, daily activity and recovery time, we can highlight things that are hindering our wellbeing. That is the secret strength of measurements compared to our own gut feeling. When monitoring progress, measuring devices that stay with you throughout your day also provide more data than occasional measurements conducted by healthcare. 

The body adapts – but to what? 

A measuring device is not always needed to collect data on wellbeing. For example, you could try keeping an exercise diary for two weeks. Can you still achieve the same results and performance as you could last year? Taking measurements is also often a source of motivation: people want to maintain regular entries in their exercise diary.

A diary is especially good for monitoring the frequency of exercise.

A tick in a calendar for each day with an exercise moment can motivate you to maintain regular exercise, even in a busy daily life. 

Studies have shown that the increase in remote work during the pandemic has significantly decreased the physical activity of working age people. Many feel the effects in their bodies when what used to be a light chore is now something that requires great effort and a long recovery time. 

The body adapts, which is both a good and bad thing. The development of your physical fitness is the body’s continuous adaptation to the challenges it faces, which includes physical performancetasks like biking to work. If the body has no challenges, it adapts to being more passive, which can over time cause a deterioration of your wellbeing, health and functional capacity. 

Long-term wellbeing goals for everyone 

When your body’s measurement data are used for the development of your wellbeing and fitness, the measurements can be very helpful. The measurement technology used by a top athlete and someone doing normal exercise is essentially the same. The difference is in the data’s interpretation, analysis and accuracy requirements. While an athlete’s measurement data are used to optimise the training and recovery for maximal performance, someone doing normal exercise will usually be more interested in information that helps them develop and maintain their fitness and wellbeing. An athlete will also often have a professional coach to offer further support, while someone doing normal exercise must interpret the measurement data by themselves. 

When you think about measurements, the very first questions should be: What is my starting situation point? What information would benefit me in my current life situation? You can then consider: what is my goal? 

It is important to make sure your goals are suitable to your life situation and proportional to the other stress factors in your life. You don’t need to aim for a marathon when a more modest goal is enough. All of us should have the goal of maintaining a good functional capacity even as we grow older. This is a long-term goal that requires us to take care of our fitness and stay physically active throughout our lives. 

Academy Research Fellow Laura Karavirta’s work includes studying the physical activity of older people and developing measurement methods for it at the University of Jyväskylä’s Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences. Previously, she worked at a company developing measurement technology and devices. 

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