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Do You Use a Fitness or Activity Tracker?

By Sheryl Kraft

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And, if so, how's it going for you?

I bought a Fitbit for my husband a few years ago, when they were new to the market. It was a birthday gift, and the purchase coincided with a long-awaited trip to Italy, where we were going to be doing a lot of walking.

Once he put it on, he never took it off. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration—he chose to remove it before turning in for the night. But during his waking hours, his Fitbit was, and continues to be, a huge motivation for him. Watching those numbers add up is like having his own private coach. Not only did he step up his fitness routine (which was always robust), but he lost weight while doing so.

And once I saw his enthusiasm, I got one of my own, and so did many of our friends. It really caught on. It didn't make a huge difference in my life—I'm pretty motivated to move a lot anyway—but it does make me more conscious of getting up to move on the days I'm more sedentary, like when I'm working at my desk, for instance.

(By the way, these little accessories are a really cute way to dress up the band of your Fitbit.)

Fitness monitors work well for many people, but not for everyone, it seems. The New York Times recently published an article about how activity trackers can sometimes undermine weight loss efforts, rather than help people lose weight.

The researchers worked with about 500 young, overweight men and women who wanted to lose weight. For the first six months, they all followed the same diet and were encouraged to do at least 100 minutes of moderate exercise each week. At the end of those six months, everyone had lost weight.

Then, the group was divided in half. One group was given a fitness monitor. The other did not receive the fitness monitor but, instead, was asked to log their daily exercise session.

The experiment had truly begun.

I, like the researchers involved in the experiment, expected that the volunteers using the fitness monitors would lose more weight than the other group, since they'd naturally exercise more and watch their calories more carefully.

Eighteen months later, they were back in the lab to get their results.

But, as you can probably guess from what I wrote earlier in this post, the monitor-wearing group was not the biggest losers: they lost an average of 8 pounds, while the ones who didn't wear the fitness monitors lost an average of 13.

Huh?

The researchers think it could be any of these reasons:

  • Maybe the monitors made people lose motivation and move less instead of more, thinking they could not reach their daily exercise goal.
  • Maybe the monitors "removed responsibility from them for monitoring their energy intake" and rather than focusing on their behaviors, they focused on the technology—and ate too much. (Personally, I don't buy this one.)
  • Maybe those wearing the monitors were motivated to move more, but then moved so much that they revved up their appetite and blunted any of the weight-loss benefits of the exercise.

Whatever the reason, I think it all comes down to who you are as an individual. Some people do better being accountable and need the "feedback" of a fitness monitor to motivate them. And the others? I'm not really sure either.

What do you think? I'm curious if you own a fitness monitor, and, if so, how it helps—or doesn't help—you.

And if you don't have one, what motivates you ?

Here's a fun piece I wrote for Family Circle, where I followed—and reported on—a group of their staffers who tried out various fitness monitors.

This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.