Fitness Trackers Might Not Work for You: Here's Why – MUO – MakeUseOf

Fitness trackers are useful for many people, but you might not reap the rewards of them.
Fitness trackers are popular for good reasons. With fitness trackers, ordinary people have access to health information and data which were previously limited.
But while some people thrive with fitness tracking, it's not a perfect solution for everyone. Here are some reasons why.
As with many types of commercially available technology, fitness trackers are great for the vast majority of their intended users. For this reason, everything from its size, strap length, features, and even price points are designed to maximize its target market.
In 2018, the Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study that identified 423 unique devices from 132 different fitness tracking brands. Among these, 47% of fitness tracking companies released only released one device, with the highest number of new devices launched in 2015.
There are several fitness tracker brands in the market, like Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple. However, they're not all tested at the same degree of accuracy. According to the study, Fitbit is used in twice as many validation studies and registered in clinical trials 19 times more than other brands.
In 2020, SAGE Journals published a mixed method observational study to examine what features of wearable fitness trackers are used and considered helpful. Among the various advantages of fitness trackers, motivational cues (83.3%), general health information (82.4%), and challenges (75%) were considered the most helpful.
The study was an interesting way to gauge a general understanding of fitness device utility. However, it's also important to understand that its participants (and many participants of similar studies) are generally healthy individuals.
Despite all the advances in fitness tracking, smaller segments of the population who have more complex needs are still often excluded. In numerous instances, fitness trackers fail to take into account individual conditions like medical issues or disabilities, which can lead to a lot of frustration for potential users.
In addition, the normal movement targets and ranges that may appear normal to others can be isolating for people with autoimmune disorders, physical restrictions, recovering from pregnancy or injury, and so on. For this reason, fitness trackers may not be ideal for everyone, especially those who have special conditions which may affect the consistency of their energy levels and their ability to move in ways that normal people do.
While the benefits of fitness trackers among non-athletes are still up for debate, fitness trackers may not even benefit all types of athletes. Despite being marketed as tools for fitness enthusiasts, it's important to understand that fitness trackers aren't even ideal for all types of sports.
In 2019, Research Gate published a study on how athletes use fitness trackers during training to improve physical and functional abilities. For fitness tracking to have a positive effect on athlete performance, researchers discovered the importance of customization of their fitness tracking devices to their individual preferences.
However, customizing a tracker to a specific sport requires two parts: owning a fitness tracker which can measure the necessary data for your sport and learning how to utilize its tracking capabilities to the fullest. Unfortunately, for some sports, fitness trackers cannot accurately pinpoint data that reveals meaningful progression.
For example, most commercially available fitness trackers can't measure how hard you punch, the height you jump, the stability of a plank, or how wide your split. In addition, fitness trackers can even negatively affect certain exercises, such as martial arts. Not only can the physical act of wearing a fitness tracker under gloves increase the risk of a wrist injury, but most fitness trackers can't even accurately count steps when sparring.
Unlike walking, sparring has a slightly different foot movement, which not all fitness trackers can identify as steps. With this, having a tracker on your wrist while grappling can risk damage to the display if you are thrown into the ground with enough force.
Aside from this, most commercial fitness trackers are only water-resistant, not waterproof. For this reason, fitness trackers like Fitbit are not ideal for people who spend a lot of time doing water sports.
Lastly, cult followings of fitness trackers often focus on fitness goals like calories burned and exercising. While the increased movement is a necessary part of improving overall fitness, they're not the only way to become a healthier person. For example, there are elements such as managing nutrient deficiencies, hormonal elements, diet changes, medication, and so on.
While there are many ways to make the most out of your fitness tracker, the cause of most issues related to fitness trackers is rooted in a growing overdependence on them. We see it in our friends who refuse to sleep until they've closed their Apple Watch rings or those who push a little harder to take a photo of their calories burned to post on Instagram.
Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to do better and increasing your capacity to work out, this kind of mentality is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons, especially for people who lack impulse control or have addictive personalities.
Not being attuned to your body while working out can be dangerous, as it can cause issues like overexercising to the point of overexertion, under-eating to make up for not getting enough steps, and so on.
In 2012, there were many early studies done on the short-term benefits of fitness trackers, such as those published in the Obesity Society. However, it's always important to understand that it is the activities, such as the exercising and dieting that contribute to weight loss, not the fitness tracker in and of itself.
In 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in which people with fitness trackers lost less weight in the long run. During the 24-month experiment, the group with wearable armbands lost 7.7 pounds on average. On the other hand, those who did not wear armbands lost an average of 13 pounds (or 5.3 pounds more).
Many factors could impact why fitness trackers are effective for some people, but not others. Regarding the studies above, one is that it is possible their fitness goals cannot be measured simply by weight loss. Another is that the test subjects may be in the phase of their weight loss journey wherein they are hitting a plateau.
Regardless, there is data to support that regardless of the reason, fitness tracking doesn't necessarily help people trying to improve their fitness levels or those hoping to shift long-term fitness habits.
But what makes them different from the ones who do thrive with a tracker on their wrist? There are plenty of possible reasons, but it could just really boil down to mindset.
Despite its problems, fitness trackers are still great tools for people looking to optimize their fitness journey. However, it's important to remember that fitness trackers of any kind are simply tools and not perfect guides. At the end of the day, no one knows your body and what it can do (or not do) more than you.
Because fitness is a lifelong endeavor, it is always a good idea to cultivate the mindset that you are a fit person who lives a healthy life, regardless if it is measured or not. If fitness is truly an important aspect of your life, the desire for eating healthy and movement is worth cultivating—even if there isn't a fitness tracker on your wrist.
Quina is a staff writer for MUO, resident adrenaline junkie, and lover of all things tech. She is primarily based in Southeast Asia and graduated with a degree in Information Design.
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