This article came across my newsfeed recently, Health and fitness trackers: Do they help… or hurt?, and I was intrigued.
First, points to Precision Nutrition for the image accompanying the article–not a super thin stereotypical fitness model. I appreciate the more inclusive imagery.
Second, thanks for the nuanced messaging. They report that fitness trackers work for some people who find the numbers and the data motivational. They don’t work for others who find the whole tracking thing oppressive and who are made anxious by the numbers. The article–aimed at fitness instructors and personal trainers–is all about how to work with the client in front of you.
Having read the article, I turned to the bloggers’ group to check with this group about fitness trackers and smart watches.
Who has one? Who loves it? Who hates them? What do we use them for?
Nicole: “I have the Fitbit Charge 3. I “bought” it with corporate incentive points last year. Up until then, I never used a tracker, other than the count on my phone’s Health App. I am generally low tech while running. I have never listened to music, while running, for example. Historically, I’d map out my runs for specific distances, using “Gmap Pedometer” and then just go follow that route.
I bought my husband a Fitbit a couple years ago. He enjoyed the step count and it alerted him to the need to the hospital when he was having a heart event a couple years ago as well. So I could see some benefits, but I wasn’t sure I wanted one. Since I purchased it, I haven’t taken it off. I like checking my exercise stats for the day/week/etc. I find the heart rate information interesting.
One of the things I enjoy most is the sleep stats. I find it interesting to see how much REM/deep sleep I’ve had, and also the fluctuations in my oxygen levels. I don’t feel it’s made me DO more, because I’ve always maintained a regular exercise schedule, but I have enjoyed seeing some of the stats.
My only criticism with this model is the light is so dim that I can’t see the numbers outside sometimes. My husband bought a newer model recently and I like the bigger face, and would get that type when it’s time to get a new one.”
Bettina: “My fitness tracker journey started with a Misfit Ray. Then I upgraded to an Apple Watch because I wanted more detailed tracking and stats, which I absolutely loved. Until one fine morning I dropped it on the bathroom floor and its screen shattered into a million pieces… Fixing it – I stupidly hadn’t bought Apple Care for it – would have cost more than replacing it with a new Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, which I have been using and loving ever since. Sometimes I still miss the sleek look and the various bands I had for the Apple Watch, but overall I’m super happy with the Garmin. My main challenge in all this was that I have really small wrists and was worried the Garmin would look way too chunky on me, but I’ve completely gotten used to it.”
Martha: “I wear a fitbit Charge 4. It’s my third. I like using trackers for steps (more accurate than my phone) and I like also how the current one monitors sleep and heart rate. It has a weight tracker which I don’t care about one way or the other. Some people find this a trigger and there doesn’t appear to be a way to delete it. I tend to ignore it. You can also track water and food intake. I used it once to check if I was eating all my fruits and vegetables. My favorite part is how I can program alarms. As a writer, I tend to spend a lot of time with my laptop sitting down. I set an alarm to remind me to get up from desk on the quarter hour. It gives me enough time to get a snack, have an exercise or stretch break, and just change my POV. I find it keeps me focused and I can track progress on my mini goals quite easily.
Sam: I’ve blogged about fitness watches a few times. I am destroyer of fitbits. I’m rough with things and I used to joke that our house should be known as a product testing stations. Car door handles have come off in my hand! I feel like most contemporary consumer goods are flimsy. Having broken more than my share of fitbits, I said goodbye to watch style fitness trackers. Also with my damaged knee, I can no longer be driven by step counts. I need to moderate how much I walk.
And then Covid hit and I started to want to track my daily temperature. I discovered that the new Garmin fitness trackers also have pulse oximeter and can measure blood oxygen levels.
Here’s my Garmin vivoactive 4 acquired during the pandemic. In addition to pulse oxygen it measures the usual stuff–heart rate, stress, sleep, steps etc. The one measure that interests me is the “body bank” score which compares rest with activity and tells you how rested you are.
Tracy: When Sam called for our thoughts on the tracker issue, she assumed I would be posting about going from hating trackers to loving them. That’s understandable since I have compared tracking to the panopticon and after a workplace step counting challenge, I came to despise counting steps. But I have always loved my Garmin Forerunner for tracking runs. It’s not an everyday/all day thing though. Then when the pandemic hit I became painfully aware that I might need to start tracking steps or something again because some days it feels as I don’t even move.
So when my Garmin needed replacing (it’s almost ten years old) and I asked around, people suggested that I consider an Apple Watch. So I did. And I LOVE my apple watch. It does count steps, but it does so much more than that. My main complaint about the step challenge a few years back was that it ONLY tracked steps. And that is not (in my view) a comprehensive approach to fitness.
I won’t hijack this post by going into all the things I love about my Apple Watch, but here are the top four:
1. It tracks and encourages without feeling oppressive (something about the tone of the reminders).
2. It is way better than the Garmin was for setting up custom intervals for my runs (that was after I bought the intervals pro app, worth every penny; and I get that the new Garmins are probably at least as easy as the Apple Watch for this so it’s more about new technology than about Apple v Garmin)
3. I have two close friends who share their accomplishments with me and vice versa – I wouldn’t want a large circle for this, but I love the sense of support and connection I get from Diane and Vicki.
4. It integrates with my phone and has a world of apps and features that have nothing to do with fitness, so in that sense it’s a fun gadget of the “how did I live without this?” kind. (bonus feature: it looks nice and there’s a marketplace overflowing with third party funky straps online for cheap).
p.s. I still hate food tracking.
My Fitbit Inspire HR is one of the most helpful pieces of tech I own.
I love the fact that I can keep track of my activity levels and my heart rate without actually having to remember to stop and write anything down.
Why is it important to me to track these things?
Well, I’m not naturally a very active person and my ADHD gives me a strange perception of time. If I wasn’t paying close attention, I could end up very inactive for a very long time but I’d have the feeling that my last exercise session was ‘just the other day.’
But the ritual of putting on my Fitbit in the morning and taking it off at night gives me some fixed points to note how much I have been moving.
I have also set it to notify me if I get less than 250 steps in an hour so I can make sure I move regularly throughout the day – instead of accidentally sitting in one position too long if I am hyper-focused.
Since my perception of my own efforts is also affected by my ADHD, having a heart rate monitor on my wrist also helps me see how hard I am working when I exercise.
And the Fitbit helps me be curious about my efforts, too. I’m not one of those people who thinks that exercise that doesn’t register on my tracker doesn’t ‘count’ but movement that doesn’t count as steps or as activity minutes does make me wonder. I like that it draws my attention to how I am moving and whether I want to push a little harder or move differently.
I also love the fact that I can have multiple timers right on my wrist (a blessing for my busy brain.) I can set alarms, I can set a regular countdown timer, and I can use an interval timer, all with something I am already wearing.
While I am not breaking any records or getting epic amounts of movement because of my Fitbit, it does help me keep moving without adding the frustration of keeping track of things.
And even though my current daily goals are pretty modest, I love when I achieve them. And I especially like those days (like Saturday past) when I am an overachiever.
How about you? Do you own a fitness tracker/smart watch? What do you use it for? Love it or hate it? Tell us your story in the comments below.