For 52-year-old Roger Bennett, nothing is more rewarding than watching his daily fitness goals achieved right there on his wrist. The self-proclaimed “Fitbit freak” has lost 20 pounds and kept it off for almost nine months, thanks largely in part to his wearable fitness device that motivates him to stay active.
“I know there are some people who say these types of devices are inaccurate or misleading, but my Fitbit has inspired me to push my body’s limits and to strive to do things that I didn’t think I could do,” Bennett says.
Bennett has been diabetic for more than 15 years and has been insulin-dependent for the past six to seven years, and losing weight had been a challenge.
“Over the years I could have always stood to lose 10 to 15 pounds, but I’d always been discouraged until I made it a point to better watch what I eat and to actually keep track of my exercise,” he says.
Enter the Fitbit Charge ($149.95, Fitbit.com), a wearable fitness tracker that monitors everything from steps taken to sleep and heart rate. Bennett purchased his Fitbit in July 2015 and has met or exceeded his personal fitness goals every single day since September 2015. The gadget’s celebratory buzzes and constant, real-time feedback gives Bennett the motivation he needs to make his health a priority.
“I have the energy of a much younger person,” he says. “My kids can’t keep up with me!”
He’s currently up to 13,000 steps, six miles, 2,700 calories burned, and 20 floors climbed per day. Along with his Fitbit, Bennett uses the Lose It! app (LoseIt.com) to track his food intake.
“I’m big on accountability, so having to look up and key in all my food has helped to educate myself a little better on nutrition,” he says.
The personal, straightforward, judgment-free feedback of his Fitbit and Lose It! data have played a key role in Bennett’s weight-loss success.
Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, research shows that wearable fitness trackers keep people moving more throughout the day. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, pedometer users took 26.9 percent more steps each day than non-trackers. What’s more, those who logged their active time also had lower body mass indexes and blood pressure.
Likewise, people with sit-down jobs — even those who exercise outside of work — may find that a fitness tracker helps raise awareness about long stretches of inactivity and encourages them to take some walking breaks throughout the workday.
Think you might be in the market for a wearable tracker? Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of the latest gadgets.
OODLES OF DATA
The latest wearable devices gather more information about your health than ever — from your sleep patterns to how much you sweat.
“They’re great for data junkies,” says Lydia Currie, a mom of four and sporadic Fitbit user.
But Currie warns they might not be the best for certain personality types or for people who might be tempted to get obsessed with their numbers and start under-eating or over-exercising.
Kasi Carvell, a high school health and physical education instructor and mom of two, agrees.
“Fitness trackers are great for people who are going from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one, or for those training who need to run or ride a bike for a certain number of miles or at a certain pace, but people can become obsessed with checking progress and more concerned with reaching their goal than enjoying exercise for the health and social benefits,” she says.
Carvell, a fitness enthusiast who enjoys running and biking, has owned both a Fitbit and a Garmin running watch that tracked her pace and distance, but she ended up ditching both gadgets because she found they weren’t good motivators for her and some of the data was inaccurate.
“I’m more motivated by the health benefits, improved self-esteem and self-image, mental improvement, and being a good role model to my children and students,” she says.
But if you think a fitness tracker will spur a more active life for you, then it might be worth the investment. Just keep in mind that it’s better to treat the data as a guide than gospel since the feedback are only estimates.
Accountability and Support
Like Carvell, not everyone needs outside motivation to maintain or achieve health goals, but many people thrive on it. Social networking has been shown to be a very effective weight-loss tool. Bennett shares his own Fitbit stats on Facebook as a way to encourage others while keeping himself accountable. Most of today’s fitness trackers allow you to connect with a group or your social media friends to offer and receive real-time encouragement as you meet your goals.
If you’re wary of sharing too much, the majority of fitness or nutrition tracking apps associated with wearable technology as well as apps like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal (MyFitnessPal.com) give you the option of keeping personal information — such as your name or even your exact weight — private.
The Bottom Line
Bennett’s Fitbit has positively reshaped his activity from morning to night and has helped him get and stay fit and healthy. And that’s a very good thing.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking wearing a pricey gadget is the only way to achieve your health goals.
“It’s really just a toy,” Currie says. “If having a toy helps you treat your body better, that’s great. But it’s not going to cure — or even help — a person who hasn’t learned healthy habits. It can be a good reminder to resume your healthy habits, though.”
As for Carvell, she’s a fan of more perennial advice for people looking to reclaim their health.
“Start with small goals. Pick one thing to focus on first — diet or exercise. Make sure your goal is specific, measurable, and attainable. Don’t make it so hard that you fail. After a few weeks, incorporate another goal,” she says.
Above all, Carvell runs because she enjoys it and hitting the pavement is a form of stress release for her.
“If you learn to enjoy a healthy lifestyle,” she says, “then you’re more likely to maintain it long-term.”
And if you’re someone who enjoys seeing measurable results, then, by all means, strap on a fitness tracker and get moving. Your body will thank you.