How to Make the Most of Your Fitness Tracker
The market is filled with wearable tech, and topping the list of reasons for buying a wearable device is health and fitness. While there have been sport specific devices for some time – personally, I’ve had some form of a Garmin since I started running – the concept of tracking your daily activities is more recent.
These devices are constantly getting upgrades with new things to track and ways to track them, and we buy them up and wear them obsessively, but are they really making you healthier?Like any gadget, it's what you do with the information that makes it useful. Click To Tweet
The way I see it, it’s completely up to you. Like any gadget or feedback tool, it’s what you do with the information that makes it useful. Whichever device you use, or if you’re in the market for one, here are some things to consider when looking at your stats.
The Big Kahuna of stats for wearables would have to be the step tracker. Even if you don’t have one, you’ve heard mention of people hitting the generalized 10,000 a day step goal.
While 10,000 is a solid goal, it’s not fit for everyone. For those first starting who consistently hit 4,000, a 10,000 goal may seem overwhelming. I suggest to clients setting a goal that’s a reach but seems doable. The whole point is to move more and whether that’s 6,000 or 10,000 it’s a good goal.
On the flip side, if you easily hit 10,000 by 2pm daily, set a higher goal for yourself! Of course you won’t keep raising it until you’re not sitting down in order to reach it, but you do want to challenge yourself.
Takeaway Tip: Adjust your step goal to ensure it takes effort, but isn’t overwhelming. You should be able to reach it most days of the week. If you rarely reach it even when putting forth your best effort it’s too high. If you always hit it without much thought, it’s too low.
This is a stat I pay a lot of attention to, and I feel is underused. It may look different on various trackers, but there will be some way to see how many hours of the day you are active. For my Fitbit, an hour where I get 250+ steps is considered active and I like to track the hours from 7am-7pm.
Here are two very different days of hitting a step goal; one with active hours, and one without:
When I worked at a desk job, I would run in the morning, walk to the train, then sit at work from 8:30-5. I’d get up to use the bathroom, get water or lunch, but that was it. Then I’d come home, walk the dog briefly and not much more. Sure, I was getting lots of steps, but there were hours of inactivity.
Now, that I work in a variety of spaces, my activity during my day is much more spread out. I’ll start by walking the dog (usually 40ish minutes), working from home a stint, biking to a client or walking to a meet up, walking to a coffee shop to work, biking to yoga class, etc. I’m rarely seeing more than 2 hours of non-active hours in a row. My steps may be roughly the same, but I’m avoiding the dangers of prolonged inactivity which include:
Heart disease – blood flows sluggishly after a long sit.
Muscle degeneration – When you sit, your glutes are doing nothing, and get used to it quickly.
Leg disorders – Sitting disrupts circulation causing fluid to pool in legs creating swollen ankles, varicose veins, and even blood clots.
Brain fog – Moving muscles pump oxygen and blood to the brain releasing mood/cognitive enhancing endorphins, while inactivity slows this down affecting your brain function
Avoid solely focusing on your step goal and look at your active hours each day with as much importance. See if you can avoid more than 1-2 sedentary hours in a row. If this is a real struggle (desk jobs make this tough!) set a timer or turn on the function where your tracker will alert you, and stand up to do some stretches, anything to move your body.
Check out this post – On the Job and on the Move – for ideas!
The sleep tracking is perhaps my favorite feature of my Fitbit Charge 2. It’s made me aware of how much sleep I’m actually getting, and now that I have set a sleep goal I want to hit it! I am drastically more adamant about going to bed at a certain time, and place a priority on getting enough sleep by adjusting my morning accordingly if I get to bed late or have missed my sleep goal the previous nights. This could mean moving my workout to later in the day, which normally I would feel lazy about.
Sleep is a cornerstone of wellness and sets all your systems up for success. Think about it; when you’re tired you tend to make fewer healthy choices throughout the day, and reach for the quick-fix energy boost you need, often in the form of sugar-filled options and processed snacks. When tired, it’s easier to skip the workout you planned for the day.
Set a sleep goal and review your sleep habits at least twice a week if not more. I recommend setting a goal of a minimum of 7 hours. Remember, the time counted towards your sleep is when you are actually asleep, not when you lay down in bed! If you’re used to going to bed much too late, aim for 15 minutes earlier for a few nights, then 15 minutes before that. Suddenly attempting a 10pm bedtime when you’re used to going to bed at midnight will not be a smooth transition!
Don’t miss my post on creating a bedtime routine, here!
Whichever tracker you use, there is some type of social aspect to it. From earning badges, comparing your stats to others, to creating and joining challenges, there are lots of ways to leverage your tracker to keep you motivated and moving.
We are either motivated by competition with others, ourselves, or both, and the social feature(s) play right into that. On Fitbit, you can see your friends’ 7-day step total and where you rank. Even if you don’t think you’re competitive, if you see you’re 3rd on the list you may just take an extra walk around the block.
Challenges are great because they are rather short term. From a one day personal challenge to reach your step goal to a group challenge of who can get the most during the work week, a challenge will pit you against whomever you choose in a super focused goal.
Take advantage of the challenge feature and challenge yourself or create a group challenge for others and watch how a little competition and accountability gives you that extra push to reach your goals!
When it comes down to it, your body is a tracker. It’s giving you constant feedback; achy joints may mean your posture is off, lack of energy in the afternoon means you aren’t getting enough sleep, growling stomach means you aren’t getting enough food, and unhealthy weight gain means you’re getting too much, etc.
But we often ignore the signals it’s giving us. Using a fitness tracker is a great way to start tuning into how your daily actions effect how you feel. It’s tangible in that you are looking at numbers that you can compare from the past week, month, year, and see your progress.
Do you use a fitness tracker? How has it changed your health habits?