Do You Really Need a Fitness Tracker?

do you really need a fitness tracker?

Fitness trackers have been all the rave for years, and it makes total sense.  They promise to track your sleep, activity, heart rate, and much more.  Some of them are even compatible with cell phones, which means you can see – and respond – to notifications almost instantly.  But is there a downside to these?  And do we truly NEED these as much as we might think?

Just a reminder that I’m not a professional/expert in this field or topic; I am simply someone who has had experiences I feel are worth sharing in order to (hopefully) help someone.  However, I have done a lot of research and learning in relation to these subjects, so I feel confident in my ability to talk about these things. (:

I have used fitness trackers for the past seven-ish years, and I didn’t think twice about it for the most part.  I got my first Garmin in middle school when I started running cross country, decided to switch to a FitBit a few years later, and then went back to Garmin a couple years ago.  I LOVED using these devices, but it wasn’t until pretty recently that I realized how detrimental they can be for your mental health.

what are fitness trackers used for?

Let’s start with the basics: what are fitness trackers even used for?  Basically everything you can imagine!  Depending on which one you have, it’s possible to…

  • receive (and respond to) cell phone notifications
  • track the distance of your run/walk/bike ride/etc.
  • count your daily steps, calories burned, and more
  • keep track of your heart rate, sleep habits, amount of water consumed, and more
  • record golf shots and find yardages on the course
  • set timers, alarms, and more
  • a million more things!

You get the point.  Fitness trackers can do a lot.  And while these devices are pretty cool and can provide a lot of benefits, it’s important to make sure the relationship you have with your fitness tracker is a healthy one.  If it’s not, your mental health could take a toll – and if your brain isn’t healthy, you’re not healthy.

what does an unhealthy relationship with your fitness tracker look like?

If you’re already wondering if you have an unhealthy relationship with your fitness tracker, there’s a good chance you probably do.  Of course, each person’s mental health is affected differently by various things, but here are some signs that you may have an unhealthy relationship with your fitness tracker.

  • becoming stressed if you don’t hit your steps/calories/other goals
  • placing your worth on hitting your goals
  • thinking that a workout doesn’t count if you weren’t wearing/tracking it on your device
  • using your calories burned to calculate how many calories you can eat that day
  • doing an activity to hit your goals, despite thinking about whether it actually makes you feel good or not
  • viewing your workouts solely as a way to burn calories

how to improve your relationship with your fitness tracker

If you think you have an unhealthy relationship with your fitness tracker and are looking for a way to improve said relationship, here are some tips that helped me!  However, just because these worked for me does not mean they’ll work for you, but I hope that by putting this out there, I can help at least one person. (:

  • only use your fitness tracker while exercising IF you feel you need it for that (for example: I’ll sometimes use my watch to track a run, but I won’t use it if I’m doing a bodyweight/strength-training workout)
  • get rid of the set goals (if settings allow) so that you aren’t stressing or overworking yourself in order to hit each goal every day
  • re-frame your mindset so that you have a better overall relationship with exercise, eating, and yourself
  • work toward seeing exercise as movement that is good for your body and not as a “calorie-burner” to get your “dream bod”
  • pay attention to what feels GOOD while working out, not on what activity will burn the most calories
  • get rid of your fitness tracker completely!

I know the last one is pretty extreme, and I know it might not be the best option for everyone, but you never know if you don’t try!  Like I said before, I had been wearing fitness watches for many years, and I really loved it.  I liked knowing how many steps I had hit each day, how much activity I was getting in, and everything else I was being told by my watch.  But little did I know how much of a toll it was taking on my mental health.

For a while, I was completely fine.  I was wearing my watch in order to track my distance and pace on my runs, and I was only running because I enjoyed it.  But eventually, I was using the calories burned to calculate how many calories I could eat that day, doing everything I could to hit my step goal, and stressing myself out if my watch didn’t calculate everything right or if I didn’t hit all my goals and have a “perfect” day.  

Once I realized how much this was affecting me, I started to work on re-framing my mindset around food, exercise, and overall health.  This did help, but only to a certain extent, because my mind kept going back to the watch on my wrist and the belief that the watch knew my health better than I did.  

This past spring and summer is when I went through a big shift.  I started to only wear my watch when working out, and this helped me quite a bit.  Sometimes I would even forget to take it off after a workout and wouldn’t even realize it was still on – meaning I wasn’t obsessing over my stats and goals throughout the day anymore!  

A couple of months ago while we were in Utah, I realized I didn’t have my watch charger with me and figured I must have left it at home.  Since we were just staying in Utah for a month, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see what life is like without a fitness watch, and then I could charge it and wear it again once we got home.  

Since I had only been wearing my watch while working out, this wasn’t a huge transition, but it still took a little getting used to.  It was weird to have to bring my phone along on every run – if I wanted to listen to music and/or track my time and distance.  But I got used to it, and eventually stopped thinking about it for the most part.  

After we got home from our trip to Utah, I checked around for my charger but couldn’t find it.  And because I didn’t want to search the entire house for it or buy a new one (I don’t particularly like spending money), I just continued my hiatus from my fitness watch.  And as of today, I haven’t worn it yet – or even thought much about it.  In fact, I often forget that I have one (I don’t have the tan line anymore to remind me).  

Sometimes it’s still weird to not wear my fitness watch while on a run or doing some other form of physical activity, but I think the positive effects of not wearing one outweigh the feeling of “missing out” on having all my physical health stats on my wrist.  

If you’ve been thinking about breaking up (or just taking a break) with your fitness tracker, this is your sign!  I know it can seem scary at first, and that’s a totally normal and valid feeling!  But I challenge you to give it a try for a week and see how it goes.  Take note of how you feel – both physically and mentally – and you might be surprised by how much your fitness tracker is actually negatively affecting your health.

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