Thoughts on the Garmin Vivosmart 4

No wider than cause supporting bracelets

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is the first activity tracker that I see tracking descent as well as ascent. It is yet another fitness tracker and in theory I had no need for it as my Suunto Spartan Wrist HR Baro and my Apple Watch Series 4 do almost the same thing.

I was curious to play with this device for two principle reasons. The first of these is the body battery functionality that looks at the energy we use during the day and the sleep we get at night to say whether we need a rest day or not and because I wanted to fill the daily activity metrics in the Garmin connect app.

Some of you might like this fitness tracker because it looks tiny on the wrist, is waterproof and because the battery lasts for days rather than hours. This means that you can hike for several days and track your activities before you need to recharge it. it automatically detects walking and other sports.

Ups, downs, and intensity

At the moment when I sat down to write this blog post I had walked down 29 floors and walked up 25. A floor is usually a standard three metre elevation change. This is a nice feature because when you’re hiking in mountaineous places it’s nice to see the full vertical movement, i.e. 54 floors today. When you’re hiking you will see why descending is just as interesting as ascending.

Intensity minutes are good too. According to this article in the Guardian: “A Public Health England survey last year found that people in England are becoming so inactive that 40% of those aged between 40 and 60 walk briskly for less than 10 minutes a month.” With a cheap device like the Garmin Vivosmart 4 and the Garmin Connect app people will see that the standard intensity goal per week is 150 minutes per week. That’s around 22 minutes a day. The article goes on to say that training as an athlete is not what improves overall health but rather the habit of walking from 15,000 steps a day onwards.

I am currently reading “The Story of the Human Body” and this book, which looks at human evolution, also explores the importance that movement has on the health of individuals from our species. Many modern diseases are due to how sedentary we have become. By walking and by being active throughout the day we alleviate many health issues because we our bodies have not had time to evolve to the lives that we currently live.

The energy imbalance

Humans evolved from hunter gatherers and their bodies were optimised for a diverse diet of fruits, vegetables and meat. The shift to agriculture diminished the diversity of foods we ate and led to certain health problems. The shift to industrialised societies led to more health problems, some of which were mitigated by advances in healthcare and medicine. The move from industrialisation to office work led to yet more health problems and evolutionary mismatches.

We have the ability to ingest more energy than previous generations and we have the ability to save energy thanks to cars and other technologies. It is now easy for us to spend hours at a time sitting. This means that we consume more energy than we need.

By moving every hour, and by practicing sports as simple as walking at a brisk pace we give the opportunity for our bodies to do what they were designed for. I recommend reading the book as I’m doing a poor job of explaining the theory behind why physical exercise is so important.

Step Auto Goal

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 detects how many steps you do on a daily basis and according to this adjusts the goal for the following day. In less than a week the goal has gone from 5000 steps in a day to 6000 and today up to 7430. I took 12,939 steps so far today so I will have a new goal for today. The advantage of such a system is that it adapts to what we do on a daily basis, rather than a static goal.

Apple watches have the same feature but rather than measure steps it measures calories burned. This is interesting if you do a multitude of sports, like cycling where “steps” can be low despite a high energy expenditure. I put a fitbit tracker in my trousers when cycling to get a more accurate step count. This isn’t ideal but it works

Limitations

Activity trackers do not have a way of converting exertion whilst cycling into “number of steps taken”. I’d love to go on a one hour bike ride and for that hour of cycling to be counted as a certain number of steps. It’s superficial but frustrating to see that you have 2000 steps for a day despite cycling 30+kms, especially if there was a lot of climbing

The second frustration is that Fitbit, Suunto, Garmin and Apple all count steps but none of them speak with each other. This means that if you want to feed each network you need to carry a device from each brand. I don’t want to wear an Apple Watch Series 4 when I’m climbing because I know that their screens are not well suited to this sport. I don’t want to wear the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR Baro to work because it doesn’t fit under my shirt sleeve. I have no problem carrying the Garmin Vivosmart 4 in any context because it’s tiny. Its limitation is that it has limited functionality, especially when you like to work out.

Conclusion

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 is a small fitness tracker that is easily worn alongside the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR Baro for days at a time. It provides a lot of data to the user without requiring an entire wrist. It is no wider than bracelets supprting a variety of causes. With being so small you can easily wear it beside your watch or hidden under a sleeve during the winter months.

No wider than cause supporting bracelets
No wider than cause supporting bracelets

This is a device you can forget about for five to seven days a week. If you’re the type of person that wants a smart device but without the tedious task of taking it off to shower every morning, and taking it off to swim, and taking it off to charge on a daily basis then this is better than the Apple watch. Add to this that the screen is small so you won’t be distracted, especially when you’re driving. The series 3 and 4 have that drawback.

If you’re really adamant about it not distracting you you can even turn off haptic feedback and just check it on the phone at the end of the week. This being said you can also check it every morning to get an idea of how well you slept without sharing your bed with a phone. It also tracks you in those moments when you’re walking around the office or home without the phone, giving you a more complete appreciation of how much activity you are up to.

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