Do You Really Need a Fitness Tracker?

Short answer: No.

Real answer: It's complicated.

People have been getting and staying fit for much longer than they've been wearing high-tech gadgets that promise to help things along.  But as the rise of smart phone technology has fueled the proliferation of electronic devices that can count steps, calories, and heart rate--along with countless other features--it's only natural to wonder whether these trackers are the secret to reaching your fitness and weight loss goals.  In this case, though, that little bit of assistance doesn't come cheap, so before you drop a few hundred dollars on a tiny piece of digital dream fulfillment, it's worth thinking through whether this is something that will actually work for you.

Fitness trackers, like most accessories of the quantified self movement, will only be as helpful as you ask them to be.  Depending on your personality, getting a daily stream of detail about what your body has been up to will fall somewhere between mildly interesting and profoundly intriguing.  Just getting some numbers isn't going to get you fit, though.  You have to know how to use those numbers to set goals and take the right steps to make progress.  This is where a doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, or health. coach can really come in handy.  They will help you set and reach targets that are appropriate for you, and your fitness tracker can give you the information you need to take those steps.

But notice the order of primacy in that sentence; setting goals and taking action come first, and collecting feedback from your fitness tracker is only a way to make that a little easier.  No fitness tracker on the market will overcome misplaced goals or an inappropriate process.  So if you're a person who likes seeing the actual data, or you're generally curious about how things are going in your body, or you're either new to the wellness game or have hit a plateau and need some assistance understanding your body's cues, go forth and track.  On the other hand, if you want to try things the analog way first, here are some tips:

- Use alarms and calendars to add structure to your day - Keep your overall activity level up by planning five minutes of stretching or walking every hour.

- Make activity your default - You always park at the back of the lot.  You never take the elevator for fewer than three floors.  You pull your own grocery cart and walk to that store that's just a short drive away.

- Do a post-meal body scan - Take a few minutes after eating to sit quietly and mentally scan your body.  Are you holding tension?  Do you have heartburn?  Did you overeat?   Does your breathing feel different?  Tune in to your body at this time of heightened internal activity and learn to notice how the outside world affects your insides.