Every step you take. Every move you make. I’ll be watching you.
If you haven’t tracked your run, does it even count?
What started as written logs and spreadsheets in the 1980’s has now become a band logging up hours on your wrist even when you're sleeping with live updates, 24/7 feedback and an industry that’s set to be worth 19 billion by 2018.
Why are we addicted to fitness trackers?
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Fitness trackers help you to put a plan into place. They give your walk meaning and they help to create a routine which adjusts to fit your daily activity. Fitness trackers give you a fantastic insight into where your fitness is at and where it should be going.
Fitness trackers give your workout accountability. Every activity will be there for you to view via the app and some trackers even share directly with your social media, so everyone knows what you’ve been getting up to. Fitness trackers also mean you can’t cheat yourself, what can’t speak can’t lie and so if you feel like you’ve been on the go all day but only completed 5000 steps and 10 minutes of exercise, your tracker will remind you it’s all in your head and you need to get moving.
The leading benefit of tracking your steps, distance, sleep, calories and heart rate amongst other measures is to keep you motivated to do more. Whether it’s to earn a Fitbit gold star or score higher than your friends on Nike Plus, fitness trackers enable that extra incentive that gets you moving more, eating healthier and going to bed earlier. Putting numerative data on your movement means you’re able to see progress and adjust your activities accordingly. Seeing is believing.
Before you reach to the biccy tin, knowing you're going to have to log your food intake and that biscuit might ruin your calories in vs calories out balance can lead to healthier habits. For those with destructive eating or exercise cycles, it also puts a physical break in the cycle by having to manually enter into a tracker what you are about to eat, or press go to begin monitoring exercise.
We copy our friends
In most social circles, they’ll be one character that’s the trendsetter and the rest will follow. There’s a metaphorical shepherd and sheep. Once one pal decides to strap up, the rest of the gang follow, adding each other and comparing who exercises the most and eats the healthiest. As with most things, nobody likes to be left out, so once one person starts a trend the others will join, motivating one another to become a more active group.
Those with a competitive streak love a fitness tracker, why? Because even if they’re not competing against their friends, they can compete against themselves. Quantifying your fitness makes it easy to monitor progress and up your game when needed. The better you are, the more bragging rights you earn and you’ll have the data to back up your brag.
The pro’s of fitness trackers in numbers (because we know people wearing trackers like numbers)
Fitbit users walk 43% more than non fitbit users.
13.5 million health and fitness trackers (HFTs) were sold in 2014 and the numbers are shooting up every year.
Currently around one in seven (14%) Brits own any wearable technology.
Fitbit (the largest wearable company) has 9.5 million active users.
Employees equipped with wearable technology reported a 8.5% increase in productivity and a 3.5% increase in job satisfaction.
Most people who use wearable tech are young; 48% are between 18 and 34.
Growth in the wearables market is expected to increase 35% by 2019.
Fitness trackers research
We were once warned “don’t let the scales run your life” but now it’s basically attached to your wrist, there’s really no running from it.
And they seem to be doing their job, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study looked into the lives of 51 overweight, postmenopausal women and found that those who wore a fitness tracker exercised for 38 minutes more weekly than those who just used pedometers.
But, the research isn’t always supporting fitness trackers, in fact an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that strapping up with a fitness band won’t actually make you any fitter, despite making people more aware of their fitness habits.
Research also suggests that the relationship we have with fitness bands may be more of a fling with fitness. A US survey of 6223 adults found that one in 10 people own a fitness tracker, but more than half admitted to no longer using it, and a third of those stopped using it within six months.
Activity readings for fitness trackers can vary by up to 25% for the same amount of exercise according to research, meaning that the research could not be taken seriously for any medical purposes.
Pricier isn’t always better: Lowa State University in the US analysed eight different fitness trackers and found that the cheaper models often had lower error ratings.
Are trackers our fitness handcuffs?
The problem with fitness trackers, comes with the obsession over numbers which aren’t particularly accurate, which can then rather ironically lead to some unhealthy habits. Is it good for your mental health to be obsessing over calories and steps every waking hour?
Picture the scenario: Person A is very tired, but has only walked 9823 steps, so, before bed they walk the remaining 177 steps pacing around and around their living room. Now person A is exhausted, they know they had a poor night's sleep last night, their tracker said so and so they’ve been walking around like a zombie all day and now lie in bed, worrying that they won’t get a good night's sleep tonight either. Would they have had more energy had their attention not been drawn to the lack of sleep? Would they be falling asleep easier if they weren't so worried about it? Are those extra 177 steps really going to make the blind bit of difference?
The same can happen for a high heart rate – the moment you know you have a high heart rate, you suddenly start wondering what’s wrong with you and this can ironically even have the effect of increasing your heart rate even further!
Person A has headed to the gym now and is ready for a session, they’ve had little sleep and they ache all over, but they’ve got to burn another 500 calories according to their watch. Person A spends their entire workout staring at their wrist to check they’re performing correctly. Don’t see an issue here? Whilst person A has spent so much time focused on the watch, they may have forgotten to listen to the best fitness tracker going, your body! Sometimes your heart rate may not be high on your tracker, but if your muscles ache and your body is willing you to stop, maybe it’s time to listen.
Person A is an extreme case, but it does highlight the risk of over reliance on fitness trackers.
We need to appreciate exercise for it’s health and wellness benefits to the mind, body and soul instead of just acknowledging the numbers on our wrists.