I’ve written previously that anyone who isn’t an athlete doesn’t need a fitness tracker and that they are generally a waste of money, because unless you have an athletic goal that you’re working towards, really all it does it tell you a bunch of information that you won’t even use. So what’s the point in wasting money on one?
I’ve changed my tune on that.
You don’t need to be a serious athlete or fitness enthusiast to get a lot out of a fitness tracker. In fact, I’d argue that a regular person who’s entirely uninterested in fitness might get even more out of it. How could this be so? Well, athletes and fitness enthusiasts have a singular goal that they use the tracker for, and they’ve usually optimised their life around that before they even get the tracker.
The average, sedentary person who doesn’t really think about their health and doesn’t move much? Their metrics are usually way out of whack, and a fitness tracker helps you in this case is showing you a bunch of areas in your life that are sapping you of your energy and health. Which then begs the question:
If you could spend just a few hundred dollars for something that could help you completely change your life, would it be worth it?
I’m pretty sure the answer would be yes.
Imagine having an abundance of energy compared to how you feel day to day now, all because a tracker was telling you exactly where you’re going wrong. We’ll get to the how a bit later on — and I promise you that it will be way easier than you think. First up, let’s look at the areas of your life that your tracker will shine a spotlight on, and how it can take you from being always tired and jaded with the world, to having more energy than you can imagine.
This one is the obvious place to start, right? Fitness trackers now can give you really insightful data on your sleep to the point that they are almost as good as getting a medical sleep study done. Personally, I thought I always slept really well, but when I started wearing my tracker I saw that wasn’t really the case.
In short, I had over 20 disturbances to my sleep per night.
By looking at my sleep data over a week, I narrowed it down to the fact that our daughter was coming into our bed early in the morning, because my sleep quality fell off a cliff at that point each night. So I made a change, where when she came into our bed, I got up and slept in her bed alone for the rest of the night. Needless to say, my sleep improved a lot.
But that showed me a new metric: all of a sudden I discovered that my sleep in her cheap, hard mattress was so much better than in our very plush king mattress. I had no idea it was a problem, because it was so soft and comfortable, but it turns out I needed way more support. After buying a new mattress that suits my needs much better, my sleep is better than ever.
I never would have discovered any of that without a tracker. And while it was incredibly useful recovering as an athlete, naturally it meant that during the day when I was at work, I performed so much better because I was well rested and more alert.
Thanks to my tracker, I now know the following things will derail my sleep and even how great the effect will be:
- Having alcohol in my system when I go to bed
- Eating too much too close to bed time
- Having my daughter next to me
- Having too much light
- The room being too hot
If I bought the tracker for nothing else except sleep, the price was worth it.*
The next obvious metric. Are you one of those people who thinks you walk enough, but you have absolutely no evidence to back this up? The first time you strap a tracker on and look at your steps come the end of the day, the actual figure might be a rude shock. That’s because it’s so easy to overestimate in your favour when you don’t know, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
Tracking your steps is such a benefit, because walking is an easy, low impact activity that will make you feel so much better if you significantly improve how much of it you do. The average American takes only 3–4,000 steps per day. That’s a long way shy of where it should be, and the fact that this is the average says that many Americans get less than this.
The psychological impact of tracking your steps is that you’ll be checking in on your count throughout the day out of habit. You’ll then be spurred on to get up and move more so you reach that target. That’s going to increase your blood flow and stop you from feeling mentally fatigued, which means you’re going to be more effective whether you’re at your job or being with your family.
After a while, you won’t need to constantly check your tracker to see how many steps you’ve done, because you’ll start to build up an idea of what a thousand, three thousand, seven thousand steps looks like in your daily life.
Resting heart rate
A strange one to track, you might think, but in conjunction with step count, could actually tell you a lot. Say you find yourself really fatigued at certain parts of the day, despite sleeping well the night before. You pull your metrics out and discover that your heart rate has been at the same level for a couple of hours. That probably tells you that you’ve been sitting too long and should get up and move around.
So with that in mind, the next day you set an alarm for halfway through that time period to remind you to get up and walk around for five minutes. When that same time rolls around you can now see whether you feel fatigued. If you do, then the answer lies somewhere else but if you don’t, you’ve solved the problem and can now replicate the solution every day.
If you’re someone who’s very sedentary, your heart rate will also be one way of measuring the effects of your improvements. As fitness increases, resting heart rate generally decreases because your heart gets stronger and more efficient at pumping the blood through your system. Seeing that number go down is a nice little incentive alongside everything else to keep improving.
Your effort expended during exercise
From my experience both as an athlete and training athletes, people always fall into one of two camps:
- The overachiever, who will grind themselves into the dust every session if they aren’t pulled back
- The underachiever, who will always err on the side of doing less and stopping once they’ve had enough
A tracker will help both of these people in different ways. For type 1, it will help you put the brakes on by showing you where your recommended strain level is against your actual strain level. Personally, getting a tracker was invaluable for me, because I could see clearly when my recovery was in the toilet and it was time to take a day off.
For the person that needs that extra bit of a push along, both during exercise and throughout the day it will tell you that you need to step it up a bit, because you aren’t anywhere near where you should be.
It will help you set real, attainable goals
It’s so easy when you feel like crap to say “oh I’m going to try and sleep more, eat better, move more” and so on. If you don’t actually know how much you’re doing right now though, how can you make any change that isn’t just guessing? The great thing about a tracker is that you’ll not only know exactly where you are, but you can dial in the smallest of changes that will help you reach your goal.
That’s where the real value is for the non athlete or fitness enthusiast. Everyone wants to make the big change, but let’s say your new tracker shows that you average only 2,000 steps a day. Rather than get discouraged at how far away 10,000 steps is, you can make your first goal to just get 2,500 steps a day, and literally stop as soon as you get there. Then in a week or two, you can add another 500 steps to that.
Those are small jumps that you’re never going to be able to accomplish by guessing, and they build up to huge benefits and habits in the long run. But you have to measure them to be able to do it. In the space of literally just a year, you could fix your sleep, your activity levels and your energy levels if you used it to its fullest. You could even just get rid of it after that if you wanted to and enjoy the benefits.
Imagine: one year, a few hundred bucks and feeling better than you ever have before. And all it takes is for you to pay attention to some numbers and make some small changes. Not a bad deal at all.
So being that so many are recently coming out of lockdown, not to mention that a new year will be upon us quicker than we expect, how about instead of vague affirmations and resolutions that always end up in disappointment, you invest a small sum in objective measurements?
Even now, 18 months after I improved my sleep quality by leaps and bounds, it’s still paying off. I recently finally tried earplugs at a friend’s insistence, and the proof is in the metrics. My disturbances, which were already reduced, are now down by 33–50% night after night since I started wearing them. The best part is, I don’t have to guess — between how I feel and the data, it’s rock solid.