How to use your fitness tracker to actually get fit

Turn your tech trinket into habit changer
Use your fitness tracker to get fit

Fitness trackers are like gym memberships. When they're all shiny and new, it's easy to think they're going to change our lives and help us wave goodbye to our wobbly bits. Then, three months later the novelty wears and reality bites. You haven't suddenly developed the body of a magazine cover model and bit by bit you've simply stopped caring.

Essential reading: Best fitness tracker to buy 2016

The stats tell a grisly tale of unfulfilled resolutions. Research by US firm Endeavour Partners found that one-third of American consumers who bought a wearable product stopped using it within six months.

So how do you make sure you don't become one of the statistics? Fitness tech expert Kieran Alger has pulled together his top fitness tech tips to help you turn your fitness tracker into a tool for life.

Don't expect the tech to be the magic wand

It's vital to approach your new fitness gadget with the right mindset. Just because you've strapped a tracker to your wrist doesn't mean you're going to get fit. What you've got is a tool, and if used correctly, it can be a brilliant aid for motivation.

But it's not a replacement for your own desire to succeed. Just like the rowing machine, set of free weights or yoga mat you bought, if you don't interact with it, it won't help. If you accept from the outset that the hard work and habit changing is still down to you, you'll have more success.

Forget the calorie count

Fitness tracker calorie counts are inaccurate. Most of them base your readings only on a few vital stats like age, gender, height and weight. This means the results you get aren't representative of what's actually being burnt in your body.

Pairing your device with a heart rate monitor, or choosing a tracker with a bpm sensor built in, can help to improve results but you need to approach the numbers with caution. Avoid using your fitness band to calculate how many calories you should consume each day, and certainly don't add treats to your diet based on the idea you've burned more than the average calorie quoter for your gender.

Set your own daily goals

Most fitness trackers come with preset step goals. Your current lifestyle might mean you can hit these targets with ease. But we all know doing what you've alway done isn't going to bring about the change you're looking for. Use the tracker for a week and see how you compare and then change the targets to be more demanding.

At the same time make a list of the times during your day when you realistically have the opportunity to add in more steps. This will help you understand where you might need to make bigger changes for greater impact.

Create micro challenges

Once you've made your list, it's time to work out how to change your behaviour. One big problem with fitness trackers is that they'll sit there recording what you do all day but won't actually have any effect on your daily habits. One way to change that is to create micro targets during the day. Walk more steps on the way to work or at lunch.

Challenge yourself to walk at least 100 steps per hour. These small targets and goals help you focus during the day rather than just drifting to an-end-of-day total.

Get social

Once the warm fuzzy feeling you get from winning a few badges and beating your target for the seventh consecutive day wears off, you're going to need something to keep that fitness band interesting. By far the best way is to dive head first into the social and community that comes with most devices, or get friends and family involved.

Having other people invested in your progress has been shown to help people stick to long term fitness plans. It's not just the encouragement and support you get, it helps bring out a competitive edge that can make fitness a lot less lonely and far more fun.

Reward your daily achievements

After the novelty of your new fitness toy has worn off, those numbers on your wrist can start to lack any real wold meaning. Keep the stats relevant but rewarding yourself every time you hit your daily or micro goals.

To help see the progress your making, get yourself a big jar and pop $1 into it each time you achieve your targets. After a month, splash out on a treat.

Focus on regular movement not just steps

In order to boost fitness and stay healthy, it's important to avoid being sedentary for long periods of time. Worse than that, sitting for long periods of time can actually increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. So if - like a lot of us - you spend your days sat at a desk only getting up for lunch and the occasional cuppa, then this is one habit to change.

Moving for five minutes every hour has been proven to aid overall wellbeing and fend off some of the nasties mentioned above. Many of the latest fitness trackers come with handy reminders. Make sure these are set to on and don't ignore them. Use your hourly strolls away from your desk as an excuse to go get a drink of water for a healthy double whammy.

Try not to take it off

If you already own a fitness tracker you might recognise this tale. You notice the battery is running low so you charge your tracker while you're in the shower in the morning. Then the next time you think about it, you're half way to work, your tracker is still docked somewhere at home and you've lost a day's stats. Fall into this trap more than once in a month and all of sudden your data feels like it has too many gaps to be useful. Bit by bit you start to question why you're bothering and before you know it the fitness band is back in its box.

How do you fix this? Buying a tracker that doesn't need charging all that often, like the Garmin Vivofit 2 or Misfit Shine 2 is one way round this. An alternative is to charge the band while you sleep but place it right next to your phone. That way you won't forget.

Log what you eat

Clever scientists have proved that noting down what you eat makes you more conscious of what you consume. Not really surprising but even if you're just scribbling notes into a notebook, you'll quickly see the disparity between how much you think you've eaten and the reality in front of you. The biggest wake up call is often in portion size, weights and calories.

MyFitnessPal is a great app for doing this on your smartphone and happily, it also syncs up with most fitness trackers to make it even more useful.

Find tools that work together

Fitness trackers are improving when it comes to capturing your all-round activity but many are still limited when you actually start working out. If you're a keen runner, cyclist or swimmer you'll probably use a different app of device for your performance exercise. Where possible, seek out apps and products that work together. If you can get your activity, running, cycling, swimming, food and even Wi-Fi scales to all sync up you'll create a far more accurate and rounded picture of you progress without having to log into seven different websites to see how you're getting on.

In fact, syncing up devices to share data has become an ongoing trend in most wearables. Apple's Health app works as a dashboard for numerous wearables while Google Fit for Android users similarly does the same thing.

More specifically, the Smart Body Analyzer Scale from Withings syncs up with MyFitnessPal and its own Health Mate app to give you a daily calorie budget with weekly progress reports.

With the new year, more wearables are bound to crop up bringing forth more tools to use. It's a lot to sift through, but thankfully connecting your gadgets is easy and shouldn't require too much effort. The real work begins afterwards, where you must stay motivated and keep using your fitness tracker.

1 Comment

  • suryakumar says:

    Fitness trackers are like tracking membership of gym. Fitness trackers are motivational to people for getting more exercise and living a healthier lifestyle," McIntyre says. "If there is a particular activity you like, like swimming, make sure the activity tracker and the software are designed for it. People who have a favorite activity that is less common, such as jumping rope, may want to check that the activity is recognized by the software. Can yoga will recognised and diagnosed in to fitness activity. 

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