Why Fitness Trackers Might Not Be a Great Fit

While smartwatches and fitness trackers can help your exercise routine, they might not be right for everyone. When they first became popular, they were incredibly expensive. But, over the years, they have become more and more affordable. Now, many people aiming to become fit or see how they are doing wear a smart device to gauge progress.

Just a few years ago, many naysayers spoke up about why they weren’t for everyone. But, as they have become ubiquitous, that conversation has mostly stopped. Now, it’s like saying, “I would never own a cellphone.” While you might not own a fitness tracker, completely eschewing them sounds foolish or backward to most people.

Fitness trackers have become more accurate and easier to read over the years. They track all sorts of information, not just steps or speed, but also pulse, oxygen levels and sleep patterns. That can be incredibly useful. They can be fantastic tools if you need to know how you are doing or get a baseline before starting a healthy routine. However, they can also become a trap.

When you track yourself, you can become obsessed with your numbers, worry about your progress and get a negative self-image. Instead of seeing your exercise results in your body, you just start to look at the numbers. And instead of enjoying exercise, you do it purely for the data. It’s good to find any motivation; if you enjoy seeing data more than actually exercising, that’s okay, but when you become fixated, that can lead to feeling worse about yourself. That’s especially true as many trackers let you compare your data to other users’ results.  

People are getting more enjoyment out of gathering the data and analyzing that and sharing it with other people,” said Prof. Eoin Whelan of the National Univ. of Ireland. “People will compare themselves to people who are better than them, who are running faster or running longer. And ultimately we know that makes them feel bad.”

Prof. Whelan said that many people are becoming reliant on the technology. They don’t know how to listen to their own bodies. “It’s like we can’t interpret our own body signals. We are becoming very dependent on the technology to actually do that for us. Some of the athletes that I coach, you can ask them a simple question like ‘how did you sleep last night?’ and they can’t answer unless they look at the data.”

Some professional runners have started training without their fitness trackers. Olympic marathoner Trevor Hofbauer won the 2019 Canadian Marathon Championships. He trains without a tracker or headphones. Instead, he listens to nature and greets anyone he sees while running. It let him find more pleasure in his run and listen to his body.

If you have too much information being fed to you in real time, it can kind of get in your head,” Mr. Hofbauer said. “For me, the more simple the better.”

If you love your smartwatch or fitness tracker and think it helps you, that’s great. We’re not trying to demonize them! Some people find that they are a great motivating tool and help them stick to a plan. But, if you find yourself obsessing over your stats or worrying about not meeting your goals every week, it might not be suitable for you. Put it aside for a while and see if you have more pleasure exercising without it. While technology can improve our lives, it’s not always the case. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to health or wellness.

Banner image: Kamil S via Unsplash

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