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Are Fitness Trackers Useless? The Pros and Cons Revealed

Activity Trackers have become all the rage. But do they help you getting fit?

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A new wave of technology has reached the fitness world. It’s called wearable fitness trackers. You know those little gadgets tracking your activity that you can wear on almost every body part of yours. What are the actual benefits of wearables for you? Can they also be “dangerous”? Let’s see the pros and cons of wearable technology!

What are Fitness Wearables

Historically technology used to be against our activity. Yet it seems to play in favor of it nowadays. The rapidly evolving fitness wearable market promises to take our fitness tracking to the next level. Although wearable trackers have been around for a while, the technology and data provided by them have significantly improved.

These little gadgets now have the ability to track the number of fitness-related factors in-depth. The most basic features include step counting, calorie tracking, HR and sleep monitoring. The more advanced ones have GPS and sports coaching. What’s more, they might even teach you how to breathe effectively.

Are Fitness Wearables Good or Bad?

Fitness wearables can be revolutionary for both pros and beginners in the gym. Yet, there are also some traps for them. Some would tell you that these gadgets will change your life. Others will never admit their benefits. I would say finding the golden mean is the best.

We talk about who Fitness Trackers might be suited to in our Ultimate Tracking Guide.

We also put forward some less well-known trackers.

So here are some pros and cons about fitness wearables that everyone should be aware of before getting one.

PROS

Get A Reality Check of Your Activity Level

It’s undeniably important to know your body and listen to cues. However, activity is trickier. Thinking that you’re active doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth.

Wearable trackers will give a reality check of your actual activity level. Even if you feel super active at times, you might get surprised by what your tracker has to say. It’s a great way to see your current stage and adjust your habits accordingly. As a result, your health awareness will be increased.

Know When You Need to Move

The so-called sedentary behavior covers everything that we do while sitting. These activities fall into the low energy expenditure category. According to the Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, sedentary behavior has negative consequences on our cardio-metabolic health. Furthermore, a research by the American Heart Association has found that it increases the risk of mortality.

It’s completely distinctive from our physical activity. In other words, you can go to the gym for a 2-hour long training every day, and still engage in a dangerous level of sedentary behavior.

Sitting has become a major part of our lives. It’s not surprising that you don’t realize when your body’s had enough. Therefore, your fitness wearable’s reminder feature is absolutely genius. It’ll let you know when you need to move. Then you just simply get up and take a short walk. It’s a small and easy step, but extremely important for your health.

Stay Motivated And Get Community Support

Another common issue in exercising is the lack of motivation. It’s hard to feel that encouraged working out, especially at the beginning. This is also an area where your fitness wearable can help.

You’ll probably register for a fitness app compatible with your tracker. All of these apps give you the option to connect with other users. Let it be friends, family or strangers.

As you know that others can track your data as well, you’ll work harder. Trust me, there is no bigger motivation than wanting to prove yourself to others. Plus, you’ll also get a chance to find workout buddies. Seeing how others perform will help in finding those at the same level. You’ll be able to encourage each other and share your experiences.

IMAGE SOURCE: FITBIT

Additionally, some activity trackers also offer amazing fitness challenges. These are perfect for those, who prefer challenging themselves alone in a fun way. A great example of this is the Fitbit Adventures. You can follow a virtual trial while completing your daily step goals. Virtually explore stunning landmarks, like the Yosemite Park, and collect your treasures. What a fantastic way of exercising.

Track Your Progress

Lastly, fitness tracking is an essential component of progress. It’s not enough to remember that you went to the gym 3 times this week. You also need hard data to derive implications and improve.

Your fitness tracker will automatically register the necessary facts and figures. This activity log will be more consistent than ever. You’ll be able to finally see behind your sweaty gym hours. If you don’t see the desired results, you’ll know that it’s time to change.

See How ShapeScale’s Features Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals

You’ll also be able to track certain monthly achievements. These can include the number of steps taken, miles run or even active minutes. This will set your actual performance against your goals. Plus, you’ll also get a feedback on your activity level health wise.

Furthermore, if you’re keen on the performance you can easily gain relevant data. You’ll be able to set and track certain goals, like average or interval pace. The more advanced ones will even provide you with real-time pace information. Moreover, tracking your HR level is also important. It’ll help you to push your VO2 max level to increase performance.

CONS

Your Calories Burnt Might Be Inaccurate

Their estimated calories burnt is probably more precise than when calculating it for yourself. Nonetheless, the question of accuracy still stands.

Wearable fitness trackers estimate your calories burnt based on your BMR and your daily-detected activity. Your BMR, or your basal metabolic rate, is a number of calories you burn at resting state. It’s calculated simply through your height, weight, and age. Once the tracker has your BMR, it adds your daily activity to get the final calorie expenditure.

Now, even BMR on its own is questioned by many. A study conducted by the Journal of American Dietetic Association has found that the equations used to calculate BMR have error rates between +/- 111-134 calories/day. Additionally, there are several factors that can affect individual metabolism. These may cause errors in the added activity part and further decrease accuracy.

Find out what the problem is with the calories in vs calories out approach

Obviously, the more advanced fitness trackers take into consideration a lot more. However, they still not account for individual differences. Therefore, you shouldn’t look at these numbers as absolutes, rather than mere estimates.

Incorrect Recommendation And Measurements

Your wearable will most probably recommend 10,000 daily steps. However, the scientific explanation behind this is still argued by many. A recently published study in the International Journal of Obesity has found that this number actually falls short in terms of reducing heart disease. They recommend increasing the number to 15,000.

The accuracy of the counted steps and distance is also debated. There are some fitness trackers that fail to recognize activity on certain gym equipment. Furthermore, some neglect cycling or even lighter steps taken.

Your Goals And The Features Might Not Be Aligned

As mentioned before not all of these trackers have the same features. In fact, there are pretty large gaps between some of them. Therefore, you always have to determine what you’d like to use a wearable for. There are several ones, which won’t have the features you need.

As an example, if you’re a serious runner, the ones without GPS will probably not be useful. Without a GPS you won’t be able to track distance completed and left, or average pace. The lack of these data can demolish pursuing performance goals.

Not to mention that wearables provide insufficient benefit for resistance training. Whatever external resistance you’re using, it won’t be able to fully recognize the results. For instance, your wearable won’t measure the amount of weight lifted. However, some trackers, like the Atlas, are already trying to overcome these flaws. So who knows, we might get there soon.

Yet for now, first set clear goals and then buy the wearable based on them.

Too Much Focus On Numeric Data

It’s really easy to get obsessed with performance. Your fitness tracker will not help but even make this worse. Once you see numeric data, you might get obsessed with it. Aiming to improve your performance is not an issue. Yet losing the joy of your workout is. So be aware of this risk and don’t get over-obsessed with numbers.

On the other hand, don’t get under-obsessed either! Consistent tracking and numerical feedback are not enough on their own. They are good for insight and motivation to perform better. However, you’re still the one who needs to take the action. As stated in Forbes, a research by NPD found that 42% of wearable owners stop using their devices in less than 6 months. Don’t be one of them!

Wearable activity trackers are bringing a new era to fitness tracking without any doubt.

They can open up your eyes to your actual level of activity and improve it for good. Being reminded to move can be extremely beneficial. It helps to prevent potential risks of sedentary behavior. Furthermore, motivation to exercise and consistent tracking of your progress can also make a real difference.

On the other hand, the accuracy of both calorie expenditure and distance tracking of wearables are still questioned. You also need to keep in mind that not all wearable trackers will have the right features for you. Moreover, constantly monitoring your progress with numbers can easily kill the joy of exercising.

So as a conclusion, put your goals first and the wearable second. Only look at the numbers as estimates and not absolutes, and beware of the potential risks of misuse.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.

9 Comments

  1. I don’t think fitness trackers are useless. They are one avenue to get you off of the couch and start exercising.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I have been wondering if I should or should not buy one of the many fitness trackers. Now, after reading this article, I know they are not for what I need. Thank you for saving me a LOT of money! Very informative, great article! Thank you for sharing!

  3. I have always wanted one of these. I think it would be great to have. I feel that it would keep me motivated..

  4. Fitness tracker can give you all facility. As Fitbit is unfortunately for Windows Phone users, there aren’t a huge number of options available that will work smoothly with your Windows Phone, Watch it may be more expensive than the Band 2, with a starting price of £369, but if the combination of more advanced smart notifications and a raft of fitness-tracking sensors appeals to you then this will tick the right boxes. To learn best fitness tracker

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