Activity Trackers, Useless Accessories or Motivating Habit Changers?

Activity trackers and wearables are all the rage.  Whether it is a Fitbit, Garmin, Polar, or the Health app on the iPhone, I bet you or someone you know has followed the trend of tracking steps and activity throughout the day.  These little gadgets can be pretty cool and motivating if we actually wear them and learn from them.  Not so much if they just become one more accessory we use for a little while and then put to the side.

I recently upgraded from one of the first clip-on Fitbits to the new Fitbit Blaze. I used the first one for a while but eventually it got put in a drawer.  The Fitbit Blaze is a watch and step counter you wear on your wrist which I like better and am wearing all day and it has been really eye opening.

I consider myself a very active person.  I play tennis, do barre, and yoga. I was surprised though once I got the Blaze and started tracking my steps again that I often times was not reaching that recommended 10,000 steps goal every day.  Two out of my three regular activities that I do, barre and yoga, are not big step accumulators.  Both activities are still, of course, very beneficial for strength and flexibility, but don’t in the end, help me with my step count.  There are some days that I have to make a very conscious and concerted effort to reach my goal.

Not only have I benefited from reaching that goal most days, so have other members of my family and even our dog.  We have started walking more as a family, whether it is with the kids or just my husband and I and the dog.  We are all moving more so everyone is benefitting.

Here are a few tips on how to turn your tracker into the motivational tool it is meant to be.
Make it fun and interesting.  For some it is very motivating to pair up with a spouse or friend or group of friends. My daughter has a Fitbit too and we compete and she motivates me often to get my steps.  I also have connected with other friends through the Fitbit community tool and get reports periodically of where my steps fall in comparison to others, which gives me a little nudge to move more.  You can also participate in challenges and compete with people you choose to compete with.  Being part of a community or having a buddy or partner in your efforts to move more or make any healthy habit change can provide you with accountability and support.  That support might give you that extra incentive to make moving more a new long-term habit.

Another way to make it fun is to increase the wearability of your tracker.  I have found fun replacement bands at low cost on Amazon so that my Blaze can be dressed up or I can change the colors to match my outfits.  For me, this makes it fun and means I am more apt to wear it all the time versus just when I am exercising.

Set a step goal that makes sense for you.  You’ve probably heard that 10,000 steps per day is the ultimate goal.  This recommendation actually originated in Japan in the 1960’s as part of a marketing campaign to sell pedometers.  Since then quite a bit of research has shown many health benefits of reaching that 10,000 step goal including weight loss and prevention of weight gain and re-gain, reduced waist size, improvement in blood pressure and glucose levels, as well as better sleep and reduced stress.

So, while 10,000 steps is an obviously beneficial goal to set, if you are currently getting nowhere close to that then just shooting for more is a good goal. For instance if you average 5,000 steps per day, focus on shooting for 7,000 and how specifically you might go about doing that.

10,000 steps is equivalent to about 5 miles.  When we are young this is a breeze, but as we get older life and work can get in the way and our steps and amount of activity tend to dwindle. In order to combat that, we have to be a little more conscious about how to work moving into our daily lives.

Pay attention to your stats.  Look for your most inactive periods of the day and figure out how to move more in those periods.  A great new feature recently introduced on the Fitbit app is the ability to track your Hourly Activity and Stationary Time.  You can see on an hourly basis how much you are moving…or not moving.  The key to that is looking for patterns and setting a goal to do something to change it.  It is beneficial to aim to get 250 steps per hour which equates to only about 2-3 minutes of walking.  Maybe you walk around the office or in place, or take the stairs, or get out and breathe some fresh air and take a walk at intervals throughout the day, for instance on your break or at lunch.  Whatever works for you.

Activity trackers can be great tools and very motivating if we wear them and learn from them.  Get curious about your steps and make it interesting.  With some effort and some gradual changes in your daily routine it is possible to ultimately meet that goal of 10,000 steps and reap all the benefits that go along with it.