SHOULD I GET A FITNESS TRACKER?
In this day and age, almost anything can be tracked or monitored. Millions of people download fitness apps or buy wearable trackers with the hopes of staying accountable to their fitness goals.
Today, the wearable fitness trackers are typically designed to measure 2 things – your number of steps and your quality of sleep. But really what these devices measure are your movements. After plugging in your height, weight, gender, etc., these devices make a guess about much movement will equal one step for your body. All of your movements then get converted into their step equivalents. So you could really be flailing around in your office chair and still pick up some extra steps on your stats. Now at night, the device still tracks movements, but it’s much more sensitive to smaller movements. The more you move in your sleep, the worse your quality of sleep. At least that’s what the device assumes.
So are these trackers really making accurate calculations? There’ve been plenty of studies on the accuracy of these devices and most find that they really aren’t accurate. Now some devices are better than others, depending on the technology in them, but overall, most devices can give you a general idea about your movements, not necessarily precise numbers. In fact, some studies found that the device accuracy can vary from day to day, even on the same person.
It’s probably safe to assume that no trackers are 100% percent accurate. So instead of getting focused on your daily stats and tracking your exact number of steps, the devices are better for giving you a big picture of your movement over time. Whether or not your consistently moving during the day and moving minimally through the night.
So do you need one? It depends.
Researchers show that fitness trackers are really only effective for people who are already healthy. It sounds a little backward, I know. But there’s an ongoing study, following 2000 people, that found that people find fitness trackers helpful when the people are already motivated to make healthy choices.
These were the stats: Over 60% of people already making healthy choices (like eating healthy and exercising) found those trackers helpful in keeping them accountable to their goals. But for the people not making healthy choices (the ones not following nutritionally balanced diets or regularly exercising), over 60% found these things to be a waste of money and not helpful.
That means if you’re already on your healthy kick, then a fitness tracker might be a good motivator to keep you going strong. But if you’re just starting out or trying to kick start a healthy movement, then you might not put all your eggs into the fitness tracker’s basket.
In fact, some studies found that wearing a fitness tracker all day can actually slow your motivation or progress for the long run. People started to rely on the tracker as motivation, rather than finding internal motivation or making lasting lifestyle changes. So as soon as they stopped wearing the tracker, they stopped making any more progress in their goals (and in some cases, went backward in their progress).
Their motivation was tied solely to the device so if they didn’t have the device on, they weren’t going to make any new changes or see any healthy progress.
And here’s the kicker – there’s a thing called device fatigue. Most people that wear a fitness tracker all day, stop using it after about 4-6 months. By then, it’s lost its excitement and appeal and stops being effective.
So are those trackers going to keep you motivated on your healthy journey? Probably only if you’re already on a healthy journey and probably only for a few months.
Now there is a tracker that researchers have found to be more accurate and provide longer lasting benefits – and those are trackers with heart rate monitors.
The heart rate monitor gives a much more accurate reflection of your calories burned because most of these devices use a chest strap (a more accurate measure of heart rate than a wrist measurement) and take your heart rate into consideration with your movements. And instead of wearing it all day (which is probably pretty uncomfortable) you can wear it just during your workouts. You prevent device fatigue because you only wear it for an hour or so, rather than all day. But you still can track your stats from your workout and see how many calories you burned and how hard you pushed yourself. It’s a better investment in accuracy and lasting benefits, but it’s not going to give you a picture of your entire day’s movement, only your workout.
Now this can be good, because then you have to rely on internal motivation and lifestyle changes to stay active for the rest of the day, which is better for long term success. But if you’re struggling with being active outside of your workouts, then the heart rate monitor isn’t going to help you much there.
At the end of the day, a fitness tracker is only has helpful as you make it. If you need a kick in the pants to get started on a health journey, than a tracker might not be your best investment. Instead, invest your money in joining a structured workout program, a diet accountability plan or something with social support built into it. But if you’re already moving along your healthy journey and want an extra boost in motivation, than a wearable tracker might help you take your motivation to the next level, but only until you get tired of it. Just make sure you do your research and use trackers with higher accuracy reliability.