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Fitness trackers: do they make you fitter?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Fuel band fitness tracker

Anybody remember the Fuelband?

The fitness tracker world is all bout Fitbits, Jawbones and Apple watches these days. The original trailblazer, Fuelband, has died and gone to fitness tracker heaven*.

I think all others should follow.

It’s amazing how the sales of fitness trackers are still going up and up, but I have yet to see a newspaper headline that says that obesity levels are going down and that people are finally becoming fitter.

I wore a Jawbone for a few months in 2015. Then it died because even though it was supposed to be splash proof it was not sweat proof. The company’s policy is to replace the units when that happens but they offered me an orange one in exchange for my dark grey one and I didn’t want orange so I declined.  I then wore a Withing’s Activite watch, which I like the look of a lot, but the data it was giving me wasn’t very motivating or interesting.

I am much more interested in how moving makes me FEEL. That is the best kind of motivator.

While I love to track my running and swimming with sports watches, I never ended up sticking with fitness trackers that do not track your athletic progress but just steps, sleep and nutrition. I want to know my running speed when training for races but when it comes to general day-to-day movement or the quality of my sleep or the quality/quantity of my food – I want to learn to listen to my body and not a gadget.

I found that my Jawbone sometimes told me in the morning that I had slept deeply for only 2 hours. I may have felt totally fine but because the machine told me I had had crap sleep, my mindset was affected all day and I held back from working out too hard and drank way too much coffee ‘just in case’. I stopped using the sleep tracking mode the earliest, it just was not reliable at all and did not reflect how I felt.

When it comes to steps, I run or do Crossfit 6 times a week so I know I’m moving enough. I also take the stairs whenever possible, including walking up and down escalators and I get up from my desk often during the day in the office. I don’t need a wristband to beep to tell me I need to get up, I get up because it’s become a habit because I know it feels good if I move frequently.

Once in a while I have checked my running watch’s recommended recovery time after a run. It always (always!) tells me that I need to rest for over 72 hours after even the shortest run. That does not make any sense. I only run 3 times a week and I FEEL straight away at the start of a run if it’s going to be an easy run or if my legs are ready for a sprint session.

Tracking my food does not work at all for me, it messes up my ability to listen to my body totally and completely. I end up eating weird combinations to things to fit the numbers, or I end up eating at weird times, or I end up eating too much because I make the biggest nutrition tracking mistake by adding all my exercise-burned calories to my daily total and making sure I eat as much as I’ve ‘earned’.  If you track your food, for example with MyFitness Pal, don’t do that – just ignore the movement calories it gives you automatically when you move with your phone in your bag or pocket and don’t add your workouts to it to add even more calories to your allowance. That’s not how tracking your macros is supposed to work, you’re supposed to be assigned a number of calories based on your exercise levels and your goals, so stick with that number.

I know a lot of people who find fitness trackers motivating and it helps them to get their daily minimum of 10,000 steps in but I wonder how long this would keep motivating you. By looking at numbers on a display, you do not look within – you do not get to know yourself, you do not learn to use your intuition, you do not learn that there can actually be a lot of JOY of movement.

I’m a huge believer in the fact that the only thing that keeps people being active (and happy) throughout their whole entire life is finding a way to move, to eat and to sleep that you enjoy, and that makes you feel great. Gadgets can give us all kinds of statistics these days and while I love all my running stats, my main motivator is how I feel.

I make mistakes all the time (especially when it comes to food) and then I feel crap but that is all part of learning.  I’m only 41, I enjoy the learning part as it means I’m alive, I’m aware, I’m on a journey, I’m evolving.

I don’t need an electronic device to tell me what’s good for me. I can figure it out for myself.

What do you think? Love a fitness tracker? Find them useful? I bet that is the case for a lot of people as the sales stats speak very loud but can you see yourself using one in 5, 10, 25 year’s time?  Will we all be microchipped by then and be told in detail what and when to eat, when to exercise, when to sleep, when to breathe slower, when to go to the loo?  I think there are interesting times ahead… 

P.S. You might also want to read Losing track on Anxiously Active website.

*What happened to Fuelband

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2 Comments

  • Reply Anna @AnnaTheApple Monday, 15 May 2017 at 13:17

    I have to say, I love my Fitbit. I’m a numbers person through and through and like to keep track of my steps, whether it’s an accurate measure or not, it is a consistent measure. I hate to be under my goal and so will always try and go for a walk to push the numbers up where I can. So in that respect it is motivating to me. I disregard the sleep bit as I think, like you said, it’s kind of a no brainer if you feel like you’ve had a decent night’s sleep or not.
    I do think a tracker can be helpful to some people. My dad, for instance, was aghast when I found he walked less than 4k a day and this encouraged him to move more. Granted, it won’t work for everyone but I think it’s at least giving an awareness to people.
    I think the main issue though will always be food choices when it comes to obesity and trackers can’t do much in the way of off-setting that yet. It’s too big a beast to conquer. You could walk 10k steps a day but still be eating atrociously and gaining weight.

    • Reply MrsB Monday, 15 May 2017 at 15:11

      You are very active anyway so the stats you get from your Fitbit are just an extra. For most of the population I think the problem is exactly what you described – they think doing the absolute minimum as far as steps is all it takes to be fit. They do not learn that health and wellness is a package with many components.

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