Fitness Trackers - Friend or Foe?

(other fitness trackers are available)

I know that walking is supposed to be good for me - everyone says so and I really enjoy it.

I, like many of you, have my fitness tracker set up to the magical 10,000 steps, which is apparently what I need to achieve to gain eternal life - well, perhaps not eternal life but a healthier life, it is said.

Now, when I have been out with the dogs (or 'dog' depending whether or not Buddy decides to grace us with his presence) and have achieved 8,530 steps by 7 am, that feels pretty good. A pat on the back for me and I only have to mince around a bit for the rest of the day to achieve the holy grail of 10,000 steps.

However, if the walk has to be a little shorter because of work commitments and the rest of the day is spent at work until perhaps 7 pm, then the remaining step target seems insurmountable and supper and a nice cool drink are calling rather than the prospect of slipping on the trainers and doing a route-march around the village to get those steps!

Am I alone here? Are there more of you obsessed with your fitness tracker? Do you feel inadequate if you have not done enough steps? Are you constantly trying to beat yesterday's target and worrying more about the counter than about whether the walk you are on is enjoyable, whether the flowers are in fully bloom, whether the sky is blue and the birds are singing?

Apparently this is very common. In a recent study in which 89% of 200 women who wore a Fitbit (other trackers are available) wore the device consistently, they only took it off to recharge the battery.

It also influenced their decision-making in terms of their diet and getting their steps in for the day. Ninety-five percent of the participants added weekly exercise to their regimen in order to exceed the number of steps they took, and 76% changed their eating habits to healthier foods and smaller portions. (which seems pretty positive).

The women in the study believed that it was important to quantify their day and felt a surge of happiness, self-satisfaction, pride, and motivation when their device notified them that they had reached their goal for the day.

However, 45% of the women felt “naked” when they were without their Fitbits, 45% felt like their activities were wasted if they weren’t being tracked, and 22% said that they were simply not motivated to exercise if they weren’t wearing their Fitbit. (not so positive).

What's the magic number?

Where did the magic 10,000 steps come from? Apparently from a marketing campaign conducted shortly before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. A pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning metre was being sold. It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck.

Studies have been conducted on different groups of people of different ages and doing differing amounts of steps and the results recorded but no large-scale quantifiable study appears to have been done into whether 10,000 steps is the optimum amount.

Surely it is what is right for you, being active is important certainly as we get older but if you achieve 9,300 steps that doesn't mean you are a failure.

Setting a goal that is right for you seems sensible. It might be more, it might be less, as long as it isn't too low or if you are constantly and easily achieving your set number of steps it would make sense to up it a bit - just to make sure you are continuing to stay fit.

Alternatively of course you could chuck your tracker away and go out and enjoy the scenery.

For me, I need that little push to just do a bit more but I'm not hung up about not achieving 10,000 every day!

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