Active Seniors: Here's How to Make the Most of Your Wearable Fitness Tracker

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Gone are the days of figuring out on your own how far you walked, how many calories you burned, and whether you really enjoyed a REM cycle.

With wearable fitness trackers, you can now get more insight on your health than ever before. And when you're on Medicare, that's a big deal.

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Wearable fitness trackers help you stay on track with your health goals. This means you may be able to prevent or delay the onset of a chronic illness. Or you may be able to better manage a chronic illness if you live with one.

And the healthier you are, the less likely you'll have to see specialists or need prescriptions. This can lower what you'll have to spend with your Medicare plan.

So, what's the best use of wearable fitness trackers? According to Ben Wanamaker, head of consumer technology and services at Aetna, these devices can benefit your health in three key ways:

1. You can use wearables to improve and manage your own health.

We all set health goals and strive to reach them. But it can be hard to measure our progress. And that can lessen our motivation and limit our accomplishments. Wearable fitness trackers can help solve this problem, Wanamaker says.

"Wearables can give you good feedback on things like the steps you've taken, the calories you've burned, and the amount of exercise that you've put forward," he says. "These features are helpful as they reflect your performance over time and help you feel accomplished."

For example, if you set a health goal of walking 5,000 steps a day, you can use your fitness tracker to ensure you're reaching that goal. This not only helps your motivation, but might help you avoid developing costly and debilitating chronic conditions.

2. You can use wearables to engage in a purpose with loved ones and friends.

It's easier to get healthy and stay healthy when others are working toward the same goals you are. Wearable fitness trackers allow you to share your progress with others and even challenge them to achieve the same health goals. And who doesn't love a little friendly competition?

"There are features in these devices to share and compare your performance on various metrics: steps, calories burned, miles run, frequency of standing, the amount of times you've been exercising, etc.," says Wanamaker. "This helps juice your motivation by having a challenge, setting a goal, or just comparing with friends and loved ones."

3. You can use wearables to help your doctor improve your care.

Your doctors gain insight into your health and progress during checkups. But now, many fitness trackers can send doctors data that not only give them a glimpse of your health, but also help them determine how they can improve your care.

"These devices are increasingly able to be used in your ongoing care. For example, almost all wearable fitness trackers collect heart rate using an optical sensing," says Wanamaker. "Some devices can even measure, in a clinically validated way, your heart rhythm and any abnormalities in that rhythm. That data can be immediately shared with a physician via your device."

This is especially helpful if you're trying to manage a heart condition. This data may help your doctor determine whether or not their treatment plan is working. The data can even allow them to detect if something is wrong long before you have any symptoms.

You can also share other data from your tracker with your doctor. For instance, you can share how many calories you've consumed or how many steps you've taken. If you're looking to lose weight or manage a chronic illness like diabetes, this data can show your doctor your progress.

Wearable fitness trackers are great, but they're no substitute for a doctor's advice. Work with your doctor to determine your needs and set health goals together.

Rachel Quetti is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, commercial health care, and consumer engagement. When Rachel isn't trying out new fitness classes, she is cooking up fun, (mostly) healthy recipes in the kitchen. Rachel lives in Watertown, Massachusetts and has a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.