Like many other people, I’m constantly looking for new ways to motivate myself to become more physically active. I’m not sedentary by any means (owning a small farm sees to that), but I lack consistency — and, like others in this digital age, yearn for meaningful feedback beyond the weight scale.
So I guess you could say that I’m intrigued by fitness trackers. I’ve played around with iOS 8’s health app to count my daily steps, but it's incredulously inept and I don’t always have my phone in my pocket. Wearing something akin to a watch that covers all manner of actions from sleeping to running sounds great, but can a little device motivate me to be healthier? Or will this gadget become yet another technological accessory that I won't use? Here are some insights I discovered by talking to people who have used fitness trackers to improve their health.
1. You will be motivated to move your body
Almost everyone I spoke to agreed that fitness trackers are an excellent motivator. Depending on the model you purchase, stats on everything from blood pressure to average sleep cycle are available. The pedometer feature in particular seems like a big selling point, with most saying that if they don’t reach a certain goal every day, they will make time to bridge the gap. "It motivates me to do more," wrote one commenter. "I usually check it around dinner time, and if I haven't been as active as I'd like so far that day, I go for a walk or a bike ride."
Some fitness trackers also offer a social aspect, allowing your to connect with friends and “cheer or taunt” them about certain categories. Most of those I polled also liked the positive feedback (glowing lights, small congratulatory messages) and/or gentle reminders (such as “you're falling behind your daily goal") they received from the trackers or the corresponding app.
2. Having trouble sleeping? Your nightly ritual will get analyzed
While results may vary depending on the type of band you purchase, another talked-about feature that has changed people’s lives is the sleep tracker. One commenter mentioned that only after wearing his fitness tracker did he correlate poor sleeping with consuming alcohol or ingesting large quantities of food before bed. Certain models also have the ability to vibrate you awake at the optimal time in your sleep pattern, thereby saving you from the groggy mess of oversleeping.
3. You will likely lose/break your fitness band
One of the most common themes in my polling was that several of the responders were on their second or even third fitness tracker. Water was the biggest enemy (most were accidentally thrown in with the wash), while others were misplaced or lost while hiking. The good news? At the very least, companies are working on making the latest generation a bit more tolerant of getting soaked. “My Fitbit has been through the wash 5 times and still works,” shared one commenter.
The other thing to keep in mind is to look for a fitness tracker that’s slim and unobtrusive. Some people said the bulkier fitness trackers snagged on clothing or were uncomfortable on their wrists during sleep.
4. Despite the price, you’ll probably buy another one
The biggest compliment from users that I could find was that nearly all were on-board with buying another fitness tracker should their current one expire. That says a lot about the value of the feedback these little devices are capable of providing. Some even mentioned that it helps feed their OCD — but in a way that makes them think about health on multiple levels.
The downside? While not prohibitively priced (within the $70-$120 range), most agreed that the bands could be more affordable. That said, there’s always the aftermarket for some deals. “I have been able to pick up replacement belt-clip Fitbits on eBay for around $60 new and quite a lot less if ‘gently used’,” wrote one commenter.
5. Not one person mentioned battery life as a negative
If you’re worried about having to charge one more device, fitness trackers appear to be fairly efficient. The most popular devices advertise charges only every 10-14 days. Everyone seemed fairly happy with battery life.
6. You might become compulsively addicted to your stats
Fitness trackers measure all kinds of activity, with some even helping you log information on calories and nutrition. You may find, especially in the beginning, that all of this newfound information can turn into a (healthy) obsession. "The first month was a bit annoying only because I am somewhat OCD and was going nuts tracking my sleep," wrote one commenter. "After this adjustment period, I loved it." Others mentioned that simply receiving feedback on their day-to-day activities was eye-opening. "Actually seeing the numbers definitely motivated me to walk more and to be more active," added another.
7. Fitbit and Jawbone dominate, but the competition is growing
While there are more than a dozen fitness trackers out there, the group I polled was split almost evenly between Fitbit and Jawbone. One user mentioned the Garmin Vivofit (which recently earned WireCutter’s best fitness tracker honor), while another threw in a plug for a as-yet-unreleased band called the Pivotal Tracker that will retail for only $12. Some also lauded app-based solutions, such as Runkeeper, but once again these require you to carry your phone on your body at all times.
Honorable Mention: Sometimes, simple is better
For those not interested in tracking everything about their day, some people chimed in to give plugs for the simple belt-clip pedometer. Not only do they provide motivation, but these devices are also nearly indestructible and cheap. Said one person who previously owned two fitness bands: “Nothing is better than a good old pedometer."
Related on MNN: