This article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on February 25, 2021.
6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Fitness Tracker
When used correctly, a fitness tracker can be a constant and positive reminder of your ongoing health journey.
By Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, Contributor
Making the Most of Your Fitness Tracker
FITNESS TRACKERS WERE A popular holiday gift in 2020, and it seems that just about everyone has one of these high-tech gadgets strapped to their wrist these days – and for good reason. When used properly, fitness trackers can help you set personalized health and fitness goals and build a supportive community of like-minded exercisers who can help empower you to pursue and someday achieve your goals.
Consider the following six tips to make the most of your fitness tracker:
- Wear it.
- Set realistic goals.
- Join challenges to boost motivation.
- Don't forget other measures of health and wellness.
- Don't get too caught up in the numbers.
- Be kind to yourself.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Fitness Tracker
1. Wear it. This may be obvious, but consistently wearing your fitness tracker is vital to success. According to research, about 30% of people eventually stop wearing their trackers due to boredom, damage or the fact that they simply don't find them that useful. If you're ever tempted to leave your fitness tracker at home, remind yourself why you bought it – or got it as a gift – in the first place. Health and wellness goals don't happen overnight, and wearing your tracker can be a constant and positive reminder of your ongoing journey. Consistency and patience are essential.
2. Set realistic goals. The value of setting realistic goals cannot be overstated. For example, if you are currently logging about 6,000 steps through your daily routine, establishing a goal of 15,000 stepsor more may be setting yourself up for failure. On the other hand, goals that are too easily achieved can create boredom and drain motivation. Set goals that are attainable and fit within your lifestyle, and then revisit them on occasion to see if it's time to progress. You may eventually reach that 15,000-step target, but you don't have to do it on day one. Be sure to consistently monitor your progress and adjust your goals accordingly.
3. Join challenges to boost motivation. Social support is often cited in research as an important element of long-term adherence to a physical-activity program. Most fitness trackers allow you to join your friends or family members in weekly or daily challenges, which can be a great source of friendly competition.
You can take this a step further by joining social media–based groups that organize challenges and sometimes offer rewards for the winners. If you work with a personal trainer, ask them if they offer this service to their clients. Allowing your personal trainer access to your data is another great way to increase accountability.
4. Don't forget other measures of health and wellness. Many people think fitness trackers are all about monitoring step counts, and while many people do focus on that daily target, the apps associated with fitness trackers offer countless features, including calorie counting, data on sleep duration and quality and heart-rate monitoring. Be sure to explore the many uses of your device and take advantage of the ones that best suit you and your goals.
5. Don't get too caught up in the numbers. Try not to get lost in the data. For some people, the pursuit of step counts and calorie counts can be very motivating; for others, it can quickly become overwhelming. Be mindful of how you are responding to the use of your fitness tracker. Does it serve as positive motivation and allow you to form a supportive community? Or, does it leave you depressed at the end of the night when you haven't hit your goals? If it's the latter, reframe your thinking regarding the numbers and focus on progress not perfection – for example, don't inflexibly focus on hitting a specific target without fail
6. Be kind to yourself.This may be the most important tip of all. Remember, the point of wearing a fitness tracker is to make movement a part of your routine as you pursue your goals. There are going to be times when you're not consistently active or eating well, as vacations, illness, injuries and countless other realities of daily life can knock anyone off track.
Lean on the community you've built and take it one day at a time. The beauty of having daily goals – take these many steps, eat these many calories, be in bed by this time – is that you can hit a reset button each morning and restart your wellness journey with a clean slate.