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The pros and cons of fitness trackers


In the era of technology, fitness trackers have become an integral part of many people's health and wellness journeys. These devices, ranging from smartwatches to smartphone applications, offer a myriad of features aimed at enhancing our understanding of physical activity and nutrition.

While fitness tracking provides a sense of accountability, precise monitoring, and the opportunity to celebrate achievements, it comes with its set of drawbacks.

So, that leads us to the ultimate question: to track or not to track? Let’s dive in.

The pros of fitness trackers

1. Provide a sense of accountability

Maintaining a clear record of your fitness progress can be a powerful motivator.

The visual representation of your efforts creates a sense of accountability, compelling you to stay consistent with your exercise routine and make healthier choices. Who doesn’t want to complete a Base streak or hit that step count goal?

Numerous studies have highlighted the positive impact of self-monitoring on physical activity and overall well-being.

2. Precise monitoring of activities

Fitness trackers allow for the precise monitoring of various activities, including calorie intake, workout duration, and heart rate.1

This data-driven approach empowers you to make informed decisions and adjustments to optimize your fitness plans.

It can be simple, such as keeping your workout under 60 minutes. Or it can be complex, like maintaining a specific heart rate to stay in an aerobic state.

Whatever it is, being aware enables more effective goal-setting and progress tracking.

3. Celebrate achievements

Fitness tracking devices provide a platform to celebrate achievements, both big and small.

From reaching daily step goals to completing a challenging workout, acknowledging these victories fosters a sense of accomplishment. Recognizing progress, no matter how incremental, encourages you to stay focused on your long-term fitness objectives. It’s the ultimate dose of motivation.

The potential cons of fitness trackers

1. Ignoring body cues

While fitness trackers offer valuable data, they can sometimes lead you to ignore your body's natural cues.

Tech is not perfect. Just ask Alexa to turn on your lights a few times to find out. Why is she playing music?

Relying solely on predetermined metrics may result in pushing beyond your physical limits. For example, if a tracker suggests you shouldn't feel tired, but you do, it's crucial to listen to your body and recognize the importance of rest days.

Overlooking these cues can lead to burnout, fatigue, or even injuries. On the more extreme side, it can mean long-term complications if you’re coming back to training after COVID or the flu. Check in with yourself (or a physician!), and always prioritize the long-term game over short-term wins.

2. Inaccuracy

Not all fitness or calorie tracking apps provide accurate data.2 Some may miscalculate calorie expenditure during workouts or misinterpret heart rate readings. Everybody is different.

Depending on potentially inaccurate information can lead to misguided decisions, such as overeating to compensate for perceived calorie deficits or pushing too hard in workouts based on faulty heart rate data.

3. Additional stress and anxiety

For some individuals, constant monitoring and fixation on specific targets can result in additional stress and anxiety. Sometimes, exercise is challenging enough as it is.

The pressure to meet step goals, maintain a certain calorie deficit, or achieve specific workout durations may become overwhelming. This added stress can negate the mental health benefits typically associated with regular exercise.

Steps to finding a balanced approach

While acknowledging the benefits and drawbacks of fitness tracking, the key is to find a balanced approach that suits your needs and preferences.

Here are some tips to navigate the potential pitfalls:

1. Listen to your body

Pay attention to your body's signals and prioritize rest when needed.

On the flip side, if your smartwatch is telling you your body battery is low, but you feel ready to go, just go!

2. Verify data accuracy

Before fully relying on a specific tracking app or device, research its accuracy and read user reviews. Choosing a reliable and well-tested tool can significantly reduce the risk of misinformation. Take the time to set up your device properly. Trust us, it’ll be worth it.

3. Set realistic targets

Establish achievable and realistic fitness targets that align with your personal goals and lifestyle.

This can help mitigate the pressure associated with constant tracking and prevent unnecessary stress.

4. Practice mindful tracking

Embrace mindful tracking by regularly assessing how it impacts your well-being. If you find that tracking induces stress or anxiety, consider scaling back or adjusting your approach.

Adapt and overcome. It won’t be perfect at the start, so take the time to fine-tune and find the right fit.

5. Use tracking as a tool, not a master

As with any tech, supplement, or piece of equipment, trackers will not achieve your goals on their own. Just because you have a smartwatch, doesn’t mean you will achieve results.

Think of fitness tracking as a tool to enhance your wellness journey, not a master that dictates your every move. Strive for a balanced perspective that integrates technology while recognizing the importance of your goals, your life, and your well-being.

Let’s recap:

Fitness tracking offers a valuable means of accountability, precise monitoring, and a platform for celebrating achievements. But don’t just take technology’s word for it.

Do your research, set appropriate goals, and utilize the human aspect along with the tech. Individually, it can be hard to navigate fitness properly. But together, you and tech make a heck of a team.

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  1. Tang, M. S. S., Moore, K., McGavigan, A., Clark, R. A., & Ganesan, A. N. (2020, July 22). Effectiveness of wearable trackers on physical activity in healthy adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JMIR mHealth and uHealth.
  2. Germini, F., Norohna, N., Debono, V. B., & Philip, B. A. (2022). Accuracy and acceptability of wrist-wearable activity-tracking devices: Systematic review of the literature. Journal of medical Internet research.