Fitness Trackers: Motivation Through Technology

You joined a gym, but after the first few weeks, didn’t seem to make it there as often as you’d like. You signed up for a month of unlimited spin classes, but have only been to three. You promised yourself you’d walk for at least 30 minutes every day, but plans got in the way.

You deserve credit for taking steps to improve your fitness. Of course, sticking with your plan is what will help you see results you seek. Some of us can make the active part of our day a priority without help, but if you could use a nudge, tracking your fitness may be a good idea for you. Research on exercise motivation and adherence shows that self-monitoring your progress makes it likelier you’ll stick with regular workouts—and actually enjoy them.

A good old pen and paper can certainly suffice, but in an age where our devices are smarter than we could have imagined, the tracking technology available on smartphones and other devices may be just what you need to stay on top of your program and keep you moving on a healthy path. Whether it’s with a pedometer or other wearable gadget, or through an app on your phone, experts agree that it doesn’t really matter how you’re keeping track—as long as it’s useful and motivating to you.

Why Tracking Yourself Helps

You may not typically be one for lists or numbers, or even technology. Even so, there are some definite advantages to monitoring your movement with a device:

  • Getting immediate feedback: When you can see, at a quick glance, how long and at what intensity you’ve been active—and how that contributed to a certain number of calories burned or miles walked—you’ll instantly get a sense of how your choices are contributing to (or detracting from) your fitness goals.
  • Discovering more opportunities to move: When you’re tracking, say, the number of steps you take each day, you’ll suddenly see that taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further from the grocery store entrance can add to your “tally.” You may find yourself seeking out such options just to improve your numbers.
  • Feeling challenged: Speaking of numbers, keeping them up—or beating them by increasing the intensity and/or duration of your activity—may push you to keep going. It may even help you log stats you may have never achieved before. Many FitBit users find keeping the device’s flower icon in full bloom motivating, as the stem shrinks if you’re less active (a good visual reminder).
  • Getting encouragement: A number of devices and apps, like Runtastic, allow you to share your accomplishments with friends via social media—a good way to receive helpful support.

What to Track

From steps and heart rate to reps and total workout time, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information you can track, especially with more and more data options available (think sleep or skin perspiration). While you may want some of the more advanced tracking features devices and apps offer, we recommend beginning with those that monitor:

  • The type of exercise you did. It’s common to gravitate toward your favorite or familiar exercises, but that can lead to workout plateaus. Continually challenging your body in different ways will help you see results and keep things fresh, and logging what you’ve done (activity, reps, sets) will help you notice when it’s time to shake things up.
  • Your workout duration. Some days, 10 minutes on the treadmill or 15 minutes of yoga in the morning is all your schedule will allow—and that’s OK. Tracking this over the course of the week, though, can help you see the big picture so you can adjust how long (and in what ways) you’re moving, if necessary.
  • Your calories burned. Being able to tally this measurement can be helpful if you’re aiming to burn a certain number each day or week. Understanding your metabolism and how your body expends energy is the first step in knowing how many calories you would need to burn to lose weight.
  • Your steps taken. We know a sedentary lifestyle can do more than make us gain weight; lack of movement is also linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. Shoot for 10,000 steps a day. Accelerometers (or like-functions on more sophisticated gadgets) offer real-time feedback to let you know how close you are to this recommended goal, tipping you off to whether or not you need to get up and move more. Pedometers are the most basic device for tracking steps yet still very effective.
  • Your energy and mood. Exercising isn’t just about pounds lost; it’s also about how it makes you feel, physically and mentally, from day to day. Many tech options allow you to journal or rate your state of mind, offering you a daily opportunity and reminder to check in with yourself. Reviewing this alongside your activity records can help you identify what might be affecting your movement (sleep, stress and so on), and how exercise impacts how you feel. Some trackers also offer a separate food log, which can provide similar insights.

Choosing an App or Device

One thing’s for certain: We’re not hurting for a lack of options when it comes to tracking technology. With choice, though, can easily come indecision. Here are some things to consider when you’re looking for a fitness tracker:

  • What information do you need? If you’re simply looking to track the number of steps you take each day, an inexpensive pedometer should do the trick. But if you’re also interested in how often and how intensely you move—or even details like your mood or sleeping patterns—a more advanced device might be up your alley. Some track REM, light and deep sleep periods, which gives you a detailed look not only at how long you’re resting, but also the quality of sleep you’re getting during that time.
  •  What are you comfortable wearing? Some gadgets fit around your wrist or upper arm, while others can be placed in your pocket or clipped to your clothing or bra strap. It’s helpful to think about what will be most comfortable and realistic for you, given your exercise habits and whether or not you want your device to be visible.
  • Would you prefer an app? If using your own smart phone, rather than a separate device, sounds like your style, consider downloading an app, many of which are free. Options like MapMyWalk or Nike+ Running track your pace and distance, and let you sync your workout up with your social media community, encouraging your friends to cheer you on and you to push harder. Other apps, like Fitness Buddy, offer loads of workout routines, tracking, a body metrics log and even a place you can store your favorite exercises.
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