Do Fitness Trackers Really Work?

arm with fitness trackerAccording to industry research, roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults (nearly 57 million people) use a fitness tracker — those wearable devices that record your daily physical activity along with other health data, such as heart rate or calories burned.

But the question is: Do these ubiquitous bits of technology really make us more fit and healthy?

The answer is … it depends.

If you’re the type of person who’s self-motivated to set and achieve certain fitness goals — like walking a certain number of steps each day — a fitness tracker can be a great tool. I’m one of these people.

I set my tracker at 12,000 steps a day. If I get home at the end of the workday and have walked only 6,000 steps because I was in meetings most of the day, I’ll do laps at home until I reach my goal.

Conversely, if you think that if your tracker tells you that you burned 4,000 calories on a six-mile run so now you can get an ice cream sundae and not gain weight — um, nope!

On the positive side, if a little competition or accountability gets you moving, these devices can also be effective. Some enable you to link with other users so you can set up a shared fitness challenge and compare your daily or weekly achievements.

But if you’re not self- or other-directed, or aren’t inclined to push yourself to reach fitness goals (and instead just use the default setting on your tracker, which is usually 2,000 steps), you’re probably not going to see much in the way of results.

Just the Facts

Another way these devices can help is if factual information motivates you. For example, the right kind of wearable can monitor your sleep patterns and help you see the connection between how much quality sleep you’re (not) getting and how well-rested you feel. It could be just the nudge you need to make lifestyle changes to promote better sleep.

Or you can use a wearable to monitor your heart rate while you’re walking or running, ensuring that you stay in the optimal range for your age and fitness level.

What Kind Should You Get?

So, if you’re confident that a fitness tracker is what you need to help you get and keep fit and healthy, what’s the best kind of wearable to get?

Once again … it depends.

Some people don’t want to spend the money on a high-end device, while others simply don’t need all the fancy functionality. For them, a simple clip-on pedometer can be an effective option, or a mobile phone app may also do a perfectly adequate job. Others might benefit from a dedicated heart rate monitor. Keep in mind, tracker accuracy varies; in general, they are accurate enough to monitor trends over time.

The key is to find a solution that supports your lifestyle. And remember — a fitness tracker is just a tool. Don’t get caught up in or focus obsessively on the numbers you track. The real measure of success is whether your health and fitness are actually improving.

And that depends on you.

Join the conversation. Do you use a fitness tracker? Does it help you stay healthy?

This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.

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