Are Fitness Trackers Awesome Or Useless?

by Z Living Staff
Every breath you take, every move you make, every sweat you break, every step you take… I’ll be tracking you.

fitness-trackerIt’s A Big Deal

No 21st Century invention has revolutionized fitness the way fitness trackers have.  Digital consumer technology has literally transcended the human body, bringing to light with unprecedented specificity that which previously could only be guessed at. 

Now every step, every lap, every elevated heart rate, is recorded, analyzed and transposed to handy charts to help the user identify and understand the full range and effectiveness of his or her efforts.  With a FitBit or a Garmin VivoActic, even the depth of your REM sleep can be recorded and measured.  And what should you do with this information?  Obviously one answer is: share with your friends…

Burn With Friends

Aps like Under Armor’s MyFitnessPal and Map My Run/Ride interface with various fitness trackers and smart watches to help the user track everything about their daily physical activity.  Everything from the route of your bicycle ride to the number of calories you burned from taking the stairs at the office is collected and displayed in an info-graphic, shareable with everyone in your social network.  For some people, social media provides the solidarity that comes from sharing your exercise experiences with friends all over the world.  For others, its accountability and knowing that potentially everyone you know online is being notified about your work out. 

Get Frustrated/Get Inspired    

fitness-trackerWhat does it take to get you off the couch and on a jog?  Do you run for the sheer pleasure?  Are you addicted to the endorphin rush? The “Runner’s High”?  Or do you jog to break through your highest score like pinball?  The answer likely depends on your personality, and also suggests whether or not you will gain anything from wearable tech. 

According to a study published by Journal of Consumer Research adding a quantitative aspect to an inherently pleasurable activity can decrease the enjoyment normally derived from it.  This is bad news for some people.  If you are one of those fitness fanatics who know exactly how many blocks it takes to crest that perfect little serotonin wave, a digital tracker is not going to elevate this experience… in fact, it may even undermine it. 

Even worse news is that many experts are concerned that for some people this technology may reinforce certain compulsive behaviors around health and exercise that can be potentially destructive.  Professor Amanda Visek from the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University believes that promoting self-awareness and “immediate feedback” can be useful for the health conscious.  In others, particularly those with body dysmorphia or anorexia nervosa, she worries the exactness provided by a fitness tracker could be tormenting.

Are Fitness Trackers Good For The Long Run?

fitness-trackerFor some it satisfies a curiosity.  “How many miles did I walk today at the State Fair?”  For others it provides a metrics based achievement system that reinforces healthy habits.  But does it last?  In a study by the market research firm NPD, about 42% of users lose interest in fitness tracking after about 6 months.   This drop out ratio similarly corresponds to the rate at which people quit going to the gym.  Ever notice how your spin class is absurdly crowded in January, and totally empty in June?  Yeah, that’s why.  It’s science. 

Into the Future, 10,000 Steps At A Time

As wearable tech continues to progress, soon there will be no physiological mystery left unobserved.  No biological function will evade the detection and analysis of your personal smart device.   Whether you are running a triatholon or sleeping off a hangover, your wearable tech will be hard at work digitizing it all.  With all of this data and all of these choices now available,  it is most important to do the thing that makes exercise better for you.  So regardless of whether you wear a FitBit or not, always keep moving.


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