Why I Decided to Get Off the Tracker Train

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Activity trackers are all the rage these days, as you see people wearing them on their waistbands, shoes and wrists. Popularized by Fitbit and Jawbone, it seems there is now a fitness tracker for every personality and health need. These tiny devices track a plethora of information—how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, how many flights of stairs you’ve walked, how much sleep you’ve gotten and more. Basically, conscious or unconscious, your tracker knows your body better than you.  

Of course, more information is always better so that you know exactly how active you’ve been at any given moment of the day. Who wouldn’t want to have these stats at their fingertips? Cue me raising my hand right now. Surprised? The fact is, I gave up my activity tracker after I decided it was doing me more harm than good.

Believe me, I understand that these devices can be a great source of motivation for someone who is trying to squeeze more activity into their days or knows a fun gadget is the way to get them moving. For others, though, it can become a source of stress and negativity. Consider the following scenarios:  
  1. You’re in a friendly step competition with co-workers at the office, or a few moms from school. You’ve been trying to get in more steps to keep you at the top of the leaderboard, but it never seems to be enough. There is always someone else doing more, which becomes frustrating. Soon, instead of challenging you, the constant disappointment makes you want to forget the whole competition.
  2. You suspect your friend who trains for triathlons likely gets 5,000 more steps a day than you. Comparing numbers with her only confirms your suspicion, and makes you realize it’s actually closer to a 7,000 step difference.
  3. According to your device, you’re burning 2,500 calories per day. Knowing how much you’re consuming, you start to expect a certain amount of weight loss to be reflected on the scale. When the scale doesn’t cooperate (which often happens), you’re ready to throw in the towel.
  4. You have a sedentary job, which means that exercise is the only way to reach your daily 10,000 step goal. You feel guilty taking rest days because that means you fall short of the goal.
I've built a career around my love of exercise, so adopting a fitness tracker was a natural progression. However, after using it for about 6 months, I found that my device began taking the enjoyment out of my routine. I started gravitating toward activities that would register a lot of steps, regardless of whether or not they were workouts I planned or even wanted to do. On the days where I failed to reach the prescribed 10,000 steps, I felt badly, even if it was a day where I wasn’t feeling well or my schedule was just hectic. As I started realizing these changes in my mood and routine, I decided to stop wearing my device.

I’ve always done better when I listen to my body, because it tells me when I’m doing too much or not enough activity. Choosing to take the device off and just focus on how I’m feeling allowed me to enjoy my workouts more and really be in tune with how much to push myself. I was happier because of it.

Soon after, my nine-year old daughter asked if she could wear my activity tracker to school. Turns out, comparing and competing for the most steps was the hot new conversation topic between friends at lunch and she wanted in on the action. I initially thought it could be a nice way to get kids excited about moving, but as she started talking about comparing calories burned, I quickly decided it wasn’t a good idea. Kids shouldn't face added pressure related to activity, but should be encouraged to exercise because it’s fun and keeps them feeling strong. 

If your tracker inspires you to move and get excited about exercise, that’s great! But if you feel yourself falling down the rabbit hole and focusing too much on the numbers, keep in mind that these devices are all based on estimates. Your device uses an estimate of your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) along with the activity it detects to come up with a calories burned estimate for the day. I emphasize the word estimate because BMR calculations are based on estimates of how many calories an average person of your age and size burns, meaning the actual number varies from person to person.

Furthermore, depending on the placement of your tracker and the type of exercise, the possibility exists that your device won’t pick up all of your activity. Rarely do two devices record the exact same number of steps and calories burned. This isn't to say that the data from an activity tracker is useless. In fact, it can be extremely helpful as long as you don’t get too tied to the numbers. It’s important to recognize that it is impossible for them to be 100 percent correct all the time.

Over time, I’ve gotten used to people asking why I don’t wear this device or that one. My response is simple: The numbers no longer motivate me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t motivate you. At the end of the day, do what works best to keep you on track with your health and fitness goals for the long run.

Do you wear an activity tracker? Why or why not?

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Comments

JANSAUR 4/17/2019
I have just a simple tracker. Just use it to see approximately how many steps I walk a day. Try to walk one step more each day of the week. Then I start over the next week. Because I have health issues and some days I am in a lot of pain so I can't walk I set a weekly goal and so far this year I have been over my weekly goal. Don't pay attention to how many calories I might be burning.

It is just a simple way for me to keep myself moving but paying attention to my body comes first.

Before my car accident I was walking 10,000 to over 15,000 daily. After the accident I could barely walk 200 to 500 steps which was so discouraging. So I took the tracker off. I think it was a year ago I decided to put it back on again to see if I could wear it and not get discouraged. I set a small daily goal one that I could meet even on days that are really painful. On the days I could not make that goal I was okay with it.

This year I decided to make a weekly goal that was a little more challenging but should be doable. There still days I can't walk that much but then there are other days I can walk a little more. And I am okay with that.

So for me it is just a tool to see how I am doing. I do have to admin there are days that I tell myself I have to walk at least one more step than the day before. I find it helps to challenge myself every once in a while.

Thanks this informational blog Report
CHRISINMIAMI 4/17/2019
I’m sorry that the blogger feels that way. I’ve had fitness counters for years. I started with the clip on kind. In 2013 I started with Fitbit and remain competitive with it. In 2015 I added the Apple Watch and I “close those rings” daily. They are fun for me especially when Fitbit tells me that it’s “step o’clock” and Apple tells me “you did it”. Report
SHOAPIE 4/17/2019
I love my Fitbit. Have had one for 7 years. Motivates me to move. Report
NELLJONES 4/17/2019
I'm addicted to watching the steps each day. It's a pain to keep it charged, though. Report
GMAM48 4/16/2019
I like wearing my fitbit because I really need to move more. I wear mine on my ankle. My hubby, however, will often sit and just shake his wrist whenever he thinks about it just to get higher numbers. A friend asked me if he had Parkinson’s Disease and I just laughed! His totals don’t mean anything. It’s just a tool to help you see the big picture! Report
AUNTIEMAE48 4/16/2019
I love mine but since I have a primarily sedentary job and I suffer from migraines, instead of a daily goal I set a weekly goal. I had to back down on my exercise for several months so I’m back to beginning levels so right now my goal is 25,000 - 35,000 steps a week. That’s 5,000 steps 5-7 days a week. I shoot for that for 6 weeks and then bump it up to 6,000 5-7 days. And on and on. Report
SHAYNE139 4/16/2019
I don't know why people do this to themselves. I have a fitbit, wear it all day, then when i take my walk, i use my Samsung health app to track the walk. I ONLY compete with myself. There is no study that says we need to walk 10000 steps in a day. That was put out there by a pedometer company to get people to buy it. Report
CACUJIN 4/16/2019
If one is trying to lose weight only, a fitness tracker could get in the way. Especially if one believes that simply wearing a fitness device will cause the pounds to melt off. It won't; they are not that heavy. If one is trying to improve fitness, it is the best tool for the job as it measures data and supplies history and activity reports. Activity trackers are not medical devices; the accuracy will not be 100% every time. The competitive attitude referenced in this article is not the tracker's fault. It is the user that decides they must compete or regulate. The users that do this thing will do it whether they have a tracking device or not. Report
DIANEDOESSMILES 4/16/2019
I use my phone (Samsung health) so that I do 6000 steps, BUT!! I don't have to reach them if I'm not well , in to much pain or just life is to crazy.

Its a guide not a demand.

The sleep activity though has been such a huge benefit for me. Thanks to it and the suggestions my sleep has been 100 times better. Yeah!!

Still its only a guide. Really enjoyed reading this. TY Report
MGCARNEAL 4/16/2019
I now use a Garmin, mostly to better judge my heart rate during exercise. And I know I came down with plantar fasciitis, and the device doesnt. But I have had friends choose to cut the cord with their trackers over the very anxiety issues you mentioned. It is rare for me to post ever, my weightloss journey is mine and not for public display which does tale some of the pressure off. Report
ERIN_POSCH 4/16/2019
thanks for the share Report
ROADTOFREEDOM 4/16/2019
I have been wearing a simple pedometer. The daily step goal that I set for myself in 5,000 because of age and health. In addition to step goals, I use recumbent bike, do a fair bit of stretching and use some light weights. We are retired and don't go out much these days, often sitting using computer. The step goal is enough to motivate me to use the treadmill to make sure that I get in at least a couple of miles of walking per day. Report
KSNANA2 4/16/2019
I love my Fitbits and have had several different kinds over the years. I also had an Omron that was very accurate but clipped on and I was always losing it. In fact the Omron kept working for years. Lost it in a snowbank for over a week, and when I found it I couldn't believe it still worked great! If this current Fitbit dies I will go back to the Omron that still hides out in my dresser drawer. Report
NEBRASKANNIE 4/16/2019
I even disconnected the fitness tracker on the sparkpeople site. I have health issues that mean I really have to listen to my body and it just got too frustrating to try to stay in their parameters when it wasn't possible for me. I still feel guilty on "rest" days, but I have to respect my body's fluctuations more than competing with anything. I'm glad it works for others, but it doesn't for me.... Report
MARTHA324 4/16/2019
I started with a simple pedometer and that got me moving and getting 10,000 steps. Moved to a Nike fuel band and now use a Garmin. Yes, it does make me a bit obsessive about meeting my step goals, but that's a good thing for me. I don't pay a lot of attention to the calories burned as some days it is way higher than I think it should be just as days when it is way lower.
What's important IMO is doing what works for you. Report
OAKEN1 4/16/2019
I have a Garmin tracker. I would never spend the money again. My exercise routine is a combination of water aerobics and yoga, to accommodate my arthritic, aging body. It seems to register only half the "steps" in water aerobics, and in yoga, it doesn't register anything. In fact, near the end of class when I am sweating and my muscles are shaking with effort, it beeps MOVE at me. What it amounts to is that I have a very expensive, not very attractive wrist watch. Unless your primary exercise is walking or running, don't bother. For that matter, even then, get a good pedometer. Report
CECELW 4/16/2019
I have had several trackers thru out the years. I even bought Spark tracker. That one was by far the worst one. Complete waste of money. Now I just use the tracker on my phone Report
MARITIMER3 4/16/2019
I've lost several pedometers, and was thinking of getting a watch-type tracker. Now I'm wondering if I need one. Report
REJ7777 4/16/2019
I wear a simple pedometer. I had never realized how sedentary I was before wearing that pedometer. It gives me useful feedback. Report
CATE195 4/16/2019
Thank you for sharing your perspective on the Fitbit. I have the Fitbit Zip which simply measures steps. I had considered upgrading but felt that something that told me how I was sleeping would stress me too much. I agree there are times when getting my 10,000 steps in does me more harm than good. I try hard to give myself room to have a rest day as I know this is important too. We all need to evaluate how this little gadget fits with our own personalities. Thanks again for sharing, Jen. Report
ETHELMERZ 4/16/2019
The business of weight loss isn’t a billion dollar business for nothing! These activity trackers are perfect for people with compulsive issues, and think of all the different fad diet plans out there, books written in the past 70 years. Remember the Oat Bran craze? For a period of time, companies put Oat Bran into everything, hoping it was that magic “cure” all. Feeding our compulsions is lucrative. It will always be so, Fit Bit or not...... Report
AVATARUM 4/16/2019
Used to have a Fitbit Zip that I was obsessed with for two years. Then it was having a lot of syncing issues and it started losing count. After it recorded a day with 200 steps I decided it was time to give it up. Even deleted my account on the Fitbit site. Report
BOOKNUT52 4/16/2019
good advice Report
PAMBROWN62 4/16/2019
My Fitbit is what gets me up and moving. The only one I am competing with is me. I like the accountability. I also like the reminders to get up and moving on an hourly basis. While I am on my feet at the job for 4 hours, the rest of the day, before my Fitbit, was mostly spent sitting down. Now, I get up and move every hour for 250-500 steps. I walk while talking on the phone and I make more ‘unnecessary’ trips while doing the laundry or putting away groceries because that also adds steps.

I enter Fitbit challenges as well. I don’t have to be the winner every time but it does force me to keep moving so I can make the daily goals or a good showing in the weekly challenges.

Before Fitbit I was quite sedentary. Now there is movement in very waking hour of every day. Report
ELISARA2005 3/10/2019
I don't use my fitbit as an end all too, more of an accountability tool. I love sharing my "goal hits" with my son. As he is my main cheerleader, its important to me to share with him. I use him as my accountability person. When I have a bad day, he tells me its ok and I can try again tomorrow. In short, he reminds me to be kind to myself. Report
KHALIA2 10/13/2018
A "no nonsense article". Thanks for this one! Report
SCAREOFMYLIFE 9/29/2018
I have a love hate relationship with my fibit I got one as I thought it would be more helpful than a old fashioned pedometer.. I since have realized I was much more successful in my weight loss journey with the pedometer. Go figure Report
FROSTYWONDER 9/18/2018
Your activity tracker is just a tool to assist you, you're not supposed to rely on it for everything. Comparing yourself to others, feeling bad because you didn't get the prescribed steps--these are emotional problems that you need to work on with a therapist, not blame your Fitbit over. Expecting a wrist band to perfectly count your steps and getting fussy that it counts the bumps in the road--grow up.

What nonsense. Report
74PLYWOOD 7/28/2018
Hmmm interesting. I got mine because I felt I needed help in figuring out how much I was doing. I didn’t want to guess. I guess it’s how you previewed it and how you use it. I know that it’s only as accurate as it can be depending on how I use it. I also use it to give me an idea of what I’m doing to keep me motivated and accountable to the direction I’m going. I set my goals and sure some days I don’t reach it or somedays I have exceeded it. But the goals are achievable goals. I take it one day at a time. But if you are stress out about it then yes, it’s better to take it off. I do this for me and I use this as a tool to help me just like tracking my food. Report
so true Report
FB17CAT
I wear a fitbit, but it does not record any step equivalents for cycling. I often get out for a 50 to 75 km bike ride, and then get disappointed that I still have to add 7000+ steps to meet my daily goal. I would be happy if I could input my activity and get credit for the bike rides. Report
Great article! I have an Omron pedometer that I only use when I do my "long walk" once a week, for my daily 4-5 mile walks I don't bother with it. Simple to check my heart rate using my watch. I feel at lot of these devices are highly over rated and often give users false information. Report
EZRASMEMAW64
I've noticed that my charge 2 often under records my steps, the stairs I climb, the time I am active. But I have learned to deal with the "problem". However, it is frustrating. So maybe it is time that I lay it aside for a while. Report
EZRASMEMAW64
I have a fitbit charge 2. I have noticed that it is very seldom accurate. I walk the halls of my apartment building. It is 632 steps from one end to the other end of the hall where I live. Report
I bought a tracker but have stopped using it. I discovered that it counted bumps in the road as I drove down the road, reporting them as steps. What good is that? The reported calories were not accurate at all. For counting steps, I went back to using a mechanical pedometer and I mostly use that while on the treadmill.

However, I do use my Polar heart rate monitor to watch my heart rate while working out. I have a very specific beats per minute range that I watch closely while on power walks. It helps me stay in a zone. It works accurately and gives me calories burned during my workout based on my body weight and heart rate. I trust it over any other tracker. As my heart gets stronger, the bpm drops, so I push myself harder to stay in the desired range. It's real-time feedback on how I'm doing. I can watch my heart beat in real time on my smart phone using a heart rate monitor app. The data is transferred to Google Fit where it then is uploaded to SPARKPeople. So for me, I'm more interested in miles walked and calories burned. When doing strength training, I can see when I have recovered enough to hit the next circuit. Report
My Fitbit is a great tool for me. Prior to buying it I barely made 2500 steps a day. I led a very sedentary lifestyle. However, the Fitbit gets me up and moving. Now getting 10000 steps is a daily goal. I like friendly completion as well. If I get into a completion where people are pushing for 100,000 steps, I bow out of those types of exercise. I am only on completion with one person, me. When I reach my daily goal, all other steps are an extra bonus. That is how I use my tracker. I won't let a thing (the tracker) bring stress or negativity to my journey. It's hard enough. Report
I wear my Gear S2 for more than just the activity tracking capability. I like to go for walks but also like to be able to respond to text messages, my smartwatch allows me to use voice to text to respond without having to take out my phone and unlock it to answer. Or I can also choose to ignore the messages or phone calls as it notifies me through the watch. I also use it as a pedometer but don't feel too badly if I don't make step count (do make a point to do that at least 4 days per week). It tracks my sleep pattern (accurately?? not sure but gives me some insight) as well. It is also my primary time keeper and timer for cooking as my stove doesn't have a buzzer. Report
I agree with gaving a healthy perspective about a tracker. Many of the challenges on this site have step minimums as part of the challenge. They can motivare or frustrate. I bought a pedometer, then lost it so now I use my phone. I injured my hip trying to do too much so I had to put it perspective anfd now i strive for daily exercise not attached to a specific number of steps or miles. It is importaht that I keep moving and -192 lbs later, I am pleased. Report
D05438
I have a friend who lives by her fitbit. If she doesn't reach the steps goal, she's unhappy.. But if she reaches the step goals, she brags. It's really annoying to be honest. I prefer to concentrate on today, and do my best to make and reach a goal every day. one day at a time! Report
DRBARNETT
I wear one provided by insurance company. You earn money by meeting certain daily goals that I want to meet anyway. Report
I wear a Fitbit, a basic one which I had got to track my sleep initially. I love exercise and have no problem getting steps in and don't compete with anyone. It never worked for me for sleep tracking so its just a step and mileage counter. I don't sync it with Sparkpeople. I use a GPS watch to track my real exercise mileage. Report
I use a regular pedometer. That stupid rule about 10,000 steps was started by some fool man as just another fitness fad because he knew he could sell a lot of books easily to the sheep that fall for every so called fitness idea that comes out. Plus so many fitness gadgets are not set up right, and people don't really get as many steps in as they think, because they didn't set it right. Report
Hi, Jen Mueller! Thank you for your article and personal experience. Do you feel the same about using heart rate monitors? Personally, I use both Fitbit and an HRM. I like the data and use it to plan my workouts. Report
Wow, thanks for posting this. It's refreshing to read someone who goes against the trends. I like my FitBit only because It does motivate me to move more. However, I totally agree that it could be really harmful if I allowed it to be. I can totally see how it might be a really negative thing and really agree that young people and kids probably shouldn't wear them. Thanks for providing balance to this conversation. Report
I enjoy my trackers. I started with a Spark tracker which I loved, but I frequently lose them and at 50 buck a pop on Amazon, they are kind of expensive to use disposably. I tried a Garmin, but it gave me over a thousand steps while I was shaving in the shower. It also gave me steps while I was sleeping, lol. I finally got an app for my phone that I love. It counts my steps and my distance, plus my calorie burn based on my weight. It's more accurate than anything else, but I still wear my Spark tracker on my shoe for verification. I feel like others who say they wear it because it sparks them to work out. It does that for me, too. I love to see the numbers add up. I have a few days here and there when I don't walk - I usually go to the pool at the gym then. These have been the difference between me remaining sedentary and disabled and getting back out into the world. The change in me has been astounding. I went from being someone who camped out on the sofa or the recliner every single moment of the day that I was not pushing myself to do something that should have been easy to being someone who can run errands and then still walk 3 miles in the evening. I'm still disabled to some extent, but I feel really good. I've lost about 33 lbs. since then and I need to lose a lot more but I've been concentrating on feeling better and being healthier. Apparently, that is what I should have been doing all along. Sorry for the tome. Report
It was really refreshing for me to read this blog. I have been feeling a bit 'left-out' because I don't have a smart phone, or a fitness app or activity tracker. I have a little mobile phone with a countdown and a stop-watch - so I can time my runs, and check my own heart-rate. I also have a little metronome that I use from time-to-time to check my cadence. I guess it depends what you want to focus on. Report
I have never found my tracker to be 100 percent accurate. In fact I have stood still and watched as it counted steps.
So, I would always try to estimate how many steps I actually took, and would guess about 1 step for every 4 that my tracker was counting.
But I still use it for the time. And it does seem to keep my distance correct.
So, for that reason I keep using it, mine doesnt have calorie burn, I am sure if it did I would think I was burning much more than I actually was. But I will use it to keep my time and mileage, I know I walk about the same amount, around 3 to 3. 5 miles. Report
PREMAMEHROTRA
I like the fact that you emphatically state that the choice is up to the individual and that in your case, listening to your body as someone who exercises regularly, makes more sense. I also understand when you say that the numbers seem to take over from the exercises for you.

I can totally relate to all that you have said. I exercise 5 to 6 days a week and on the 3 days that I work out in the gym, I do not record the required number of steps. In the beginning, I was fairly obsessed with making sure that I got the 10000 steps regardless of the fact that I may have done the equivalent in my 80 minutes of PT. Nowadays, I wear my Fitbit Charge HR to either tell me how fast I am running the same route or how much time between sets am I actually resting.

And I am much happier. Thanks for the article. Enjoyed it!! Report
i love my fitbit.. keeps me motivated! Report
I gave mine away too. Was just another thing to become obsessive and compulsive about. Fitbit flex didn't show the number of steps unless you went on the computer all the time to check it. Wasn't accurate either, since if I wasn't moving my arms, it didn't register my steps correctly. Didn't need the aggravation or stress. I'm better off just tracking my actual mileage. Report