Fitness Trackers: Are They Worth it?

The pros and cons of fitness trackers to determine if one is right for you!

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

Have you wondered if fitness trackers are worth the price tag?

Are they even accurate?

Will I become one of those crazy people obsessed with “closing my rings?”

I feel like I should be honest with you and tell you that starting to use a fitness tracker was a HUGE part of my early success in weight loss.

[That story is linked here.]

However, now that I am a trainer, I have been exposed to the “dark side” of fitness trackers as well. So here are some pros and cons to help you make an informed decision!

Pros:
  • Motivation. Regardless of which type of tracker you use, there can be something very motivating about reaching goals. If you liked getting stickers on your chore chart as a child, checking things off your to-do list, or making daily goals, fitness trackers will likely feel very motivating for you.
  • Concrete goals. Most fitness trackers make you identify at least a couple of goals including minutes of movement or exercise, daily calories burned, standing each hour, sleep quality, etc. Usually, the tracker software or app will help you make these goals (see cons section below). Having a concrete goal can help with adhereance. For example: your goal might be to “move more,” but your tracker may now make that “exercise for 30 minutes each day.”
  • Calorie tracking. Some, but not all fitness tracking apps come with a food diary section. Again, this can be a con, but it also helps you keep track of what you are eating and how many calories are in each meal. Having to track food also can reduce or eliminate boredom eating or extra snacking.
  • Being able to track data long-term. Using a tracking app gives you access to past nutritional information, weight tracking, and exercise duration. This can be fun to look back after a few months or years and see your progress.
Cons:
  • Lack of accuracy. Even if your tracker tells you that you just burned 700 calories in a HIIT workout, does that make it true? Not usually. This can lead people to believe they are burning more calories than they actually are. (Side note: number of calories burned on exercise equipment is also wildly inaccurate.)
  • “Earning” food. Many tracking apps will give you calories back based on your exercise. For example: if it tells you that you burned 400 calories biking, it will add 400 calories to your daily calorie limit. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. One: feeling like you have to “earn” more calories can lead to disordered eating patterns and a terrible relationship with food. Two: you are erasing your deficit for the day. Most tracking apps make you fill out your activity level when you set it up. So your exercise should already be taken into account for your daily calories.
  • Becoming overly-dependent. For some people, once they start seeing results with their fitness tracker, they feel they always have to have it. They have no idea how to manage their food or exercise without it. I remember when my first tracker broke and I was distraught. No device should have that much power over your health journey.
  • Lack of rest days. Fitness trackers are not a fan of rest days and it shows. If you get sick or just need a day off, it will likely not stop yelling at you for the entire day. This can lead to patterns of not taking rest days at all, which can lead to a whole host of problems. Do not let your fitness tracker keep you from proper rest and recovery.

Hopefully now you feel able to make an informed decision about whether a tracker is right for you, or how to use yours better!

For full disclosure: I started out with a Jawbone tracker. It was very similar to a FitBit. I do not recommend this company at all because both Robert and I had ours break within about a year and they promised to send replacements. They never did.

Next I moved on to a basic FitBit. I loved it to pieces and loved the app. I upgraded to an Apple Watch in December 2018 and would not change a thing. I especially love it for outdoor hiking, biking, and running to track distance and timing splits.

How Can I Help?

If tackling a new exercise regime on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have experience with a wide array of clients.

I will coach you through an individualized plan to meet your goals and help you gain strength and confidence, while cutting through the confusion. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, motivation, and guidance to make lasting change.

In-person or online coaching available! Send me an email at jsfncoaching@gmail.com and let’s chat about your goals!

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