So almost 6 months ago, I lost my fitness tracker – no, it wasn’t a FitBit and yes it was my own fault. And I was a bit upset about it because I thought I liked to know how many steps I did and how much sleep I got and whether I was meeting guidelines and all that jazz. I was also annoyed because I only had it for a year, and I was doing such a good job of not losing or breaking electronic devices (for once).
What I didn’t know was how much better off I was without it.
Now, I’m not one to say that fitness trackers and measuring devices aren’t useful and have their place. They’re pretty awesome for research because 10 years ago researchers used to have to purchase pedometers and accelerometers and give them out to measure activity in steps, now people can use their personal devices plus you get so much more detail! Hours of sleep, sleep cycles, heart rates, steps, mine even helped keep track of menstrual cycles too (I told you, all about those details). I think it’s also a great way to get friends to motivate each other to be more active through virtual competitions.
I love having lots of information, it’s the scientist in me. I want to know everything and I’m ever curious, so why not start with my own body? We have shifted from knowing how we feel within our bodies to endless streams of numbers and data and information telling you whether you’re comparable to guidelines. And the irony is, you get to access this information on your phone, one of the devices making us so sedentary!
Usually, you wouldn’t get that amount of detail about your body’s “numbers” until you went to the GP for a check-up! It’s great to know you’re doing enough steps and being active and getting enough sleep – both have an effect on weight maintenance and mental health. And I thought, as a future health professional – I should know everything about myself, every little nitty-gritty detail.
It wasn’t until I lost my tracker, that I realised I don’t need that much information and I certainly don’t want it anymore. Because a number shouldn’t validate if you’ve done enough activity (10,000 steps is a fairly arbitrary number to define someone as being “active”) pushing yourself to stay on the treadmill for another 5 minutes to hit that goal when you’d otherwise get off, isn’t fun. Worrying about why your heart rate is high when you’re just walking down the street and being worried about it which then makes your heart rate elevate even further. Or justifying to your tracker every morning that, in fact, you DID fall asleep at 10pm and not 1am, as it so estimates.
I’ve lost it and I’m probably not going to buy another one because I feel liberated by the fact that I can wake up and just feel good and awake and not stress that I didn’t get exactly 7.5 hours of sleep, or go to bed and worry about checking my steps to see I only did 4,000 steps today because I’ve been pumping out uni reports or doing paperwork and feeling guilty knowing I have to “make up for it” tomorrow. Now, I just think, “Awesome I had a chance today to go to the gym today and feel good about my workout and spend some time on myself to decompress from the day” or “I feel really refreshed this morning” without back-calculating what time I fell asleep and whether I’ve technically got enough sleep. I don’t need to answer to a device that thinks it knows my body better than I do because guess what it doesn’t! I only know the way I feel, and that is what matters, not the numbers on the screen.
I simply just do not need to know that level of detail to feel happy and healthy day-to-day.
Yes, fitness trackers are great for some people and definitely handy from a research perspective. But, this student dietitian is free from the constant buzzing and monitoring of every little step I take.
How do you feel about your fitness tracker? Is it more beneficial than it is harmful? How much of your day do you spend thinking about the data it is giving to you? How does it affect your health?