Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D.
Almost 80 percent of American adults who already don’t meet the government’s recommendations for physical activity (or essentially exercising moderately for at least 150 minutes a week), “getting fit” isn’t just going to happen. You’re going to need some serious motivation.
Might you find it in some type of fitness tracker? With over 20 percent of adults owning one, clearly, many of us believe that technological motivation will help us reach our fitness goals.
Fitness tracker manufacturers (such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike), of course, agree. The companies stress the potential of their devices to become an all-in-one platform for improving health. But will that new FitBit really help you get off the couch and moving toward your health goals?
Don’t count on it.
Unfortunately, simply wearing a fitness tracker isn’t going to help you reach 10,000 steps a day, lose 20 pounds or sleep seven hours a night. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your new wearable to help you on your fitness journey. It just means that you can’t put a Fitbit on your wrist and expect to start magically accumulating steps, losing weight and sleeping better.
Currently, most of the people who purchase fitness trackers already lead healthy lifestyles and want to quantify their progress. So, just giving a Fitbit to someone who is inactive is unlikely to get them moving; they need a little more motivation.
Preliminary research reveals that while fitness trackers can increase adults’ physical activity levels in the short term, they don’t work as well to motivate people in the long term – especially if those people were previously inactive. That’s not surprising considering that about 32 percent of users stop wearing their devices after three months and 50 percent of users stop wearing their devices after one year.
If you don’t want to be one of them, follow these simple, science-based tips to help you get the most out of your fitness tracker and to reach your fitness goals. And revisit them frequently: When people stop using these tips, they tend to resort back to their couch potato behavior.
- Set goals.
People need to set both short-term goals (like steps per day) and longer-term goals (like steps per week or month) for motivational success, according to research presented at the Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare conference. Make sure these goals are reasonable, yet challenging, for motivational success.
- Give yourself reminders.
People who receive reminders to exercise are more likely to follow through, but there’s a caveat: The reminders have to be specific to the person’s goals, and not just say, “Hey, walk more today!” If your goal is to reach 10,000 steps per day, for example, then your reminders should be about how many more steps you need to reach your daily goal.
- Stick to real rewards.
Receiving a virtual reward (such as ribbons and badges) might give you a momentary rush, but it probably won’t motivate you to commit to fitness for the rest of your life. Instead, try linking up with a program that provides community, support and accountability.
- Connect with other apps.
Fitness trackers tend to have their own apps, but that’s probably not the only app they can sync with. If you’re trying to reach your fitness goals, there are plenty of health-related apps for calorie counting, tracking your workouts and mapping your sleep. For example, try MyFitnessPal, a free smartphone app and website that monitors diet and exercise goals and uses gamification to motivate users. According to a review published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, app-based interventions to improve diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviors can be effective in helping people reach their fitness goals.