Tracking

When the FitBit first came out, I think in 2011, I got one. I wore it for a week, experimented, didn’t like it, and sold it. 

The technology for wearable trackers (something we wear, often on the wrist, that tracks our daily activity) seems to be greatly improved. The online and social opportunities have expanded too.  When I noticed a few friends wearing a tracker, I decided I should revisit them. I bought a Jawbone UP 24.

First, I still don’t like a wearable tracker for me. In fact, “hate” is not too strong a word here. I began to feel annoyed by having something on my wrist. I use several iPhone apps for running but they don’t require me to check in through the day. The UP app would remind me to upload, prompting me to check my step totals. It was too constant, and I do not need extra nudges to get moving.  If you already are very active throughout the day, you don’t need a wearable tracker. 

If you suspect, though, that despite getting in at least 30 minutes of sweaty exercise most days, you spend much of the rest of the day not moving much, you might benefit from wearing a tracker. Not moving much is such a problem that sitting is being called the new smoking. Even those who put in a hard workout for an hour a day may be at risk if they aren’t getting up and moving around through the rest of the day. Check out this article  from Runner’s World that explains why our total daily movement is so important.

One of the things a tracker can do is remind someone to move throughout the day. For anyone with a job that requires a lot of computer time and a lot of concentration, it’s easy to lose track of how long we’ve been sitting and working. The app for a wearable tracker can be set up to nudge the user if that user spends too much time sitting and not enough moving. For instance, a user can set an UP to vibrate every hour between the hours of 8 am and 5pm. That  means getting a nudge throughout the work day. 

Nudges work extremely well at getting people to move more. In this article from the Wall Street Journal, author Kevin Helliker describes a study that shows whether a person called to check in on participants in a study or whether participants received an automated phone call, those participants who got the check in moved more than those who didn’t. 

Even a little bit more exercise helps our overall fitness and well-being. If nudges help us even sometimes, this is worthwhile. Maybe we don’t meet our goals every day or get up each time our bracelet vibrates, but if we do so even half the time, we’re better off than we were before we put on the trackable. 

Anyone who needs a little extra motivation to exercise might do well with a tracker. The UP invited me to set a goal for how much sleep I’d get and how many steps I’d take each day. Just seeing the number of steps can be enough to motivate someone to want to improve. I’ve heard of more than one person deciding to go for a walk after dinner to meet their steps goal.

After meeting (and exceeding) my step goal for two days, I was asked if I wanted to challenge myself by upping the number of steps I’d take the next day. This nudge helps us create small, achievable goals, which is rewarding and turns the process into a game. 

There’s a third reason these devices may help motivate us. The UP app invites users to join teams. Team members can provide motivation and competition, which also makes the experience more like a game. People who exercise with others or who even keep in touch with others about their exercise are more likely to keep exercising. 

Finally, the UP app gives daily short tips. Studies show that when people read these tips — or even simply see them in their Inbox — they’re more likely to engage in healthy habits. Whenever a user opens an app, that is a reminder that the user is engaged in creating a healthier lifestyle, which is reinforcing. 

Here are a couple of other things to note. 

If you need a little nudge, and you're receptive, these trackers work beautifully. If you're exhausted, overwhelmed or very resistant, the trackers won't be enough to nudge or reward you. That's okay. Think of these trackers as just one of the many ways you'll increase your self-awareness and be motivated toward better health. 

Second, they're supposed to help monitor your sleep, telling you not just how long you slept but how soundly. They really aren't accurate for this. This article says, hey, just setting the intention to sleep better can be helpful and that's why the monitor actually may work for some users. If you're getting data that helps you make better choices, that's good. Just one word of warning: The sleep monitor on these kinds of devices shouldn't be used instead of going to a sleep lab if a serious problem may be present. 

Which one to choose? The FitBit and the Jawbone UP are the most popular. I suggest trying them on if you can. The FitBit is less expensive. The UP is easy to wear and to put on and take off quickly.  Many reviews talk about how great the UP app is, but I found it a bit clunky; for instance, if there’s a way to zoom in, I didn’t find it. You can read a comparison here and here. 

If you can't decide, just pick one. It's easy to find refurbished ones on Amazon, and you can re-sell them on eBay if you decide you don't like the one you chose. Or buy from a store with a generous return policy.