Fitness First: Can Trackers Help You Stay Motivated?

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2015 19:35

activity trackerMotivation is often the ticket to fitness success, and until recently that meant hiring a personal trainer ($50 an hour and up) or recruiting a friend to browbeat, shame or ideally, inspire you into maintaining your exercise regimen.

But now you can buy an electronic fitness tracker (one-time cost, $50 to $300) to keep you on target. Trackers come in many forms, including smartphones (using downloaded fitness apps), wristbands, clothing clips and devices that attach to your exercise equipment. All sync wirelessly with programs on phones and laptops.

Manufacturers include Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit, Samsung and Jawbone, to name just a few. Virtually all are available online, and many can be purchased at local stores.

These devices record your exercise in steps and distance, calculate calories burned and even nudge you off the couch by telling you – with a gentle beep or soundless vibration – that you’ve been sitting too long. Some track your heart rate and may even record the hours and quality of your sleep.

With motivation to keep these numbers up, trackers are helping many people meet their personal activity and weight-loss goals.

The psychology behind them is just as important as the technology inside them.

The high-tech geniuses who came up with trackers knew that being accountable – be it to a trainer, an exercise buddy or a fitness class – has long been a key to staying motivated. So they came up with electronic gizmos which inspire you to meet or beat numbers you posted yesterday or last week.  “Keep up your steps! Keep up your hours!” the trackers seem to encourage. “Burn more calories.”

If you already have one of these devices, I’m sure you’re moving more each day – if you’re still wearing the thing.  Having a little brother watching you from your wrist or collar may be closer to George Orwell’s 1984 than some might prefer.

But maybe you’re on the fence, trying to decide if you want to track all your fitness, nutritional and sleep information. Because this is where I am, I did some research. First I asked my coworker Diane how her fitness tracker, combined with Weight Watchers, helped her lose almost 50 pounds in six months.

For years Diane had struggled to stay motivated. When it came to diet and exercise, she says, “I was the master of fooling myself,” coming up with rationalizations and excuses to veer off the program.

But now, Diane says, her tracker encourages her to meet previously elusive step goals.

“It’s helped me walk the walk toward a better quality of life,” she says, adding that the positive reinforcement of reaching daily goals has become a fun, positive part of her diet and exercise journey.

“And,” she adds, “you can’t fool the technology.”

My friend Emma also wears a tracker. Her daughter, who lives out of the area, bought it for her last year and actually tracks her mom’s activity and sleep. So not only must Emma answer to her tracker, but to her daughter as well.

It all works: Emma has a wonderful connection with her tracker and is happy it lets her children know she is still up and about, regularly getting both exercise and a full night’s sleep.

Another friend tells me she and her husband used trackers to stay active and motivated for about  a year. Then they got off track due to other priorities. Recently, however, she has decided to track her diet and activities again.

As with most exercise plans, taking an occasional short break from a tracker-based regimen can be a good idea. Then, electronic wristband again strapped on, you can come back with new enthusiasm.

One drawback is that you must be at least somewhat computer savvy to hook up a tracker. But if you have a laptop or smartphone, are a quick study, or have a son, daughter or friend who is cyber-literate, you can learn. Then after a week or two of tracker-recorded workouts, it will become second nature.

Recording exercise performance is nothing new. Jim Fixx’s annual running calendars were best sellers during the 1970s running boom. And any serious athlete or successful dieter knows documenting performance is a key to success.

As physicist Lord William Kelvin (1824-1907) said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Kelvin didn’t have a fitness tracker, which makes the measuring easier than ever. But he no doubt would have approved.

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness. She’s now wearing a tracker.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2015 19:35
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