Is your activity tracker helping? Or hurting?


Tracking your steps, monitoring your heart rate, keeping tabs on your sleep. It's all good for you, right?

You bet it is.

Except sometimes it's not.

When should you worry about your activity tracker?

The good - What gets measured gets done

I bought a Misfit Phase for Christmas and I love it. I've worn it every day, joined an online accountability group and I'm pounding the pavement to hit my 10,000 step target each day. I've noticed a measurable improvement in my fitness. Hills I once avoided pose no trouble. I jog short distances. It's a great mood booster too. If I'm frustrated, agitated or anxious and I head out for a fast walk my favourite tunes playing, I return happier and more focused.

I know exercise helps me physically and psychologically. We all know that. But there's a difference between knowing and doing. Setting goals, tracking my progress and hitting my targets gets me out there doing it. Accountability - even to yourself  - works. 

My Misfit Phase. Not  actually  mine but one just like it. This is an image from  @misfitwearables  because it's prettier than the photos I take.

My Misfit Phase. Not actually mine but one just like it. This is an image from @misfitwearables because it's prettier than the photos I take.

Misfit app: Gotta complete that circle! Nothing like a visual of your goal to keep you on track.

Misfit app: Gotta complete that circle! Nothing like a visual of your goal to keep you on track.

Tracking your mental health

An array of trackers or wearable tech (known as biofeedback tools) are now recommended by psychologists to enhance:

  • Sleep -The accuracy of a simple sleep tracker on your phone is questionable but more sophisticated tool like the SleepImage system can help you hone in on and fix sleep issues
  • Gratitude - I have a Pebblestone. It's like a real time one-click gratitude journal, and gorgeous to hold.
  • Calmness and clarity (by managing anxiety symptoms) - Reach Out's Breathe app - Check your heart rate using the camera on your phone, then follow the visual prompts to slow your breathing and return to calm.
  • Mood and mindfulness - Clip your Spire to your belt or bra and let it track your stress levels. It will prompt you with tips to regain calm when it senses your tension rising.

The bad - You can have too much of a good thing. 

Addiction. Do you recognise these?

  • You get anxious without your tracker
  • You spend more time than you intend tracking your activity (or food or sleep or anything).
  • You're neglecting your social life, family, sleep, work, relaxation in favour of tracking your activity.

These are just some of the symptoms of a preoccupation with your activity tracker that might require you to take a step back and rethink its use. 

Health halo.

You're wearing a Fitbit so you must be getting healthy right? Not necessarily. Researchers have noticed that the act of wearing an activity tracker can trick us into making unhealthy choices. Is this familiar? 'Hey, I've done 9000 steps today, I deserve that extra chocolate biscuit and second glass of wine.'  This may explain why wearing an activity tracker may not help you lose weight.

Tracking with friends

The social element of group tracking using apps like MyFitnessPal is a bonus for accountability and motivation. We're social beings and making a commitment to others ups our responsibility. There's a dark side though. You may find the anxiety of 'competition' or a fear of judgement overwhelming. This can lead to unhelpful behaviour like overexercising and increased worry and stress.

The verdict?

Improving our well being through exercise, sleep, gratitude, mindfulness or stress reduction is greatly enhanced when we know what's going on inside and out. Simple biofeedback tools like activity trackers and wearable technology give us an objective means of accountability, progress and success. They give us the power to make change.

But with power comes responsibility. Let the device control you and you're no longer on the path to well being.

If you're concerned about your well being or use of activity trackers, talk to a professional. If you're using the power of your device for good, more power to you.

P.S. I have included affiliate links in this post. If you love something here and decide to buy it for yourself I get a teensy bit of cash to keep this blogging business in motion. 

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7 Online Psychologists to Follow in 2017

My Top 5 Easy Mindfulness Books