How Do You Choose the Right Fitness Technology for You?

FOREST CREATURES & WOODLANDSAs I’ve discussed before, I use a Fitbit One to track my daily steps. I’ve owned it almost a full year and am surprised to find it still helps me determine whether I’ve met a minimum movement threshold for the day. I think I walk more because I have it, and I’m still gratified to see a high step total for the day (especially on long run days!).

The one thing I don’t use my Fitbit for is the actual reason I bought it: To understand my sleep.

I had been sleeping poorly and thought that a tracker might help me better explain my issues to my doctor. I couldn’t really tell how much sleep I was getting, only that I felt tired and was spending too much time awake in bed. I’d also heard a presentation about how the return on investment for employers providing trackers is much greater if the tracker captures sleep, since being well-rested impacts productivity more than being active.

It turns out that while I was sleeping poorly, I wasn’t tossing and turning enough for the Fitbit to distinguish between slumber and wakefulness. Oh well.

I kept using the Fitbit anyway because it offered me a few unexpected benefits:

  • Some of my friends use Fitbit, and the social competition aspect has been stickier for me than I anticipated.
  • Seeing my step totals climb during marathon training is fun, and when I’m not training, my reduced step totals are a good reminder to move more.
  • My abysmal stairs count prompted me to start taking the stairs more often to my sixth floor apartment; now I can do it without getting winded.

What’s your style?

Misfit is partnering with Swarovski to bring extra style to their fitness trackers.
Misfit is partnering with Swarovski to bring extra style to their fitness trackers.

I don’t mean your fashion sense, although that matters too. What you should really think about is your motivational style. Do you like competition? Are you a maximizer or a satisficer? Do you find specific goals (like 10,000 daily steps) useful, or would you rather just see a yes/no indicator that you met an activity threshold? Are you looking to track just movement, or are there other variables you also want to plot? Do you like to carry your phone with you all the time, or do you want something that lets you leave it at home?

With so many different trackers on the market, not to mention apps that can use the accelerometers and GPS in your phone, you can most likely find a tracking technology that fits your psychological style. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you like.

What’s your plan?

Tracking activity for its own sake likely won’t hold your attention for long. There has to be some sort of utility for the technology in changing your behavior, giving you personal insights, or helping you to communicate about your health. Successful use of trackers has some kind of endgame.

More and more companies are using fitness trackers to engage employees (or in the case of health plans, members) in healthy behaviors. A few examples of company-based programs that help users make some sense of their data are:

  • My company has a group-based step contest that employees can join using the tracker of their choice. Team step totals are displayed in the office kitchen, and people who hit milestones are acknowledged in our quarterly all-company newsletter. Social support and team-based competition help people move more often and more mindfully.
  • Jawbone recently rolled out a technology-enabled group fitness capability for its Up wristband trackers. Called Up for Groups, the program gives employers bulk discounts on the wristbands and automates the group competition aspect that my company does by hand in our office. Up for Groups gives employee benefits administrators insights into aggregate data for ongoing ROI calculations and program evaluations. Theoretically, this real-time insight could help wellness personnel reshape organizational culture even while individual employees change their own behaviors.

What tracker is right for you?

Is there anything so rewarding as the Fitbit dashboard on a day you ran a half marathon?
Is there anything so rewarding as the Fitbit dashboard on a day you ran a half marathon?

Ultimately, the tracker you choose will be determined by multiple factors, including cost, availability, and aesthetics. Your psychological style will play a role in your decision; you’ll gravitate toward trackers that give you the amount of information that best fits your needs. You’re more likely to use a specific tracker if your workplace or health plan encourages that model (it is worth noting that more companies are rolling out technology that can take in data from any tracker, including my company’s Track Your Health app). You’ll also probably consider what types of trackers your friends use, especially if you’re interested in social sharing or competition.

I’d love to hear about what fitness trackers you’ve tried and liked. What makes those particular ones fit your needs?

5 thoughts on “How Do You Choose the Right Fitness Technology for You?

  1. Great perspective on fitness trackers. I’ve been a Fitbit user for just over a year and enjoy it. I’m pretty passive about it — I use it more as a remark on my day: “Well, I wasn’t very active today.” or “Wow, I moved around a lot.” I suppose that means I fall in the satisficer category, but every now and then a Fitbit dashboard full of smiley faces is a nice thing to see.

    My company has just embarked on a short Fitbit-based activity challenge. Will be interesting to see if that increases my motivation to get that step count up!

    1. I have to confess that I don’t actually participate in my company’s challenge–I tend to keep my fitness activities private within a close circle. I’ll be interested to hear if you think broadening your circle helps.

  2. I’m a Fitbit flex fan.

    When I was a Weight Watchers member, I used their Active Link tracker, but I prefer the Fitbit because it has the friends list with their step counts for the day.

    And you marathoners on my feed skew me way low, but I keep trying.

  3. Well written article. I recently purchased a Polar fitness watch, which measures heart rate zones in addition to steps. I like it, and it’s suprisingly motivating, though it’s a bit oversized and requires a USB cable to upload data. I also have a fitbit that I never use. For just counting steps during the day it’s hard to beat the convenience of your smartphone.

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