Making Goals, Keeping Track

Fitness trackers are flooding the markets these days. Some are devices you wear, others are websites. Here’s a small sampling:

  • UP, FuelBand and Fitbit—wristbands that sense motion to track both steps and times of no motion to calculate stairs climbed, calories burned, sleep quality and other data
  • MyFitnessPal—an app and website for tracking exercise and diet
  • EveryMove—a social platform where you enter data from your own fitness devices and receive encouragement and ideas from an online community

With various devices, apps and websites, you can calculate calories burned, measure vital signs, count your steps and even track your sleep habits. You may already have an app: Apple’s Health app is automatically loaded onto iPhones—it may be counting your steps right now!

Pros and Cons

The best part of trackers is that they can aid you in reaching your goals by giving you direct feedback that helps you keep track of your fitness activities. A 2012 study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that people who kept a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who didn’t.

An additional motivator embedded in many of these devices, websites or apps is a social context. Your progress can be compared to others discreetly, which helps some people maintain their commitment and push their fitness activities to the next level.

On the down side, most tracking devices and apps aren’t perfectly accurate or don’t work very well for certain activities (for example, cycling or weight training). Just like cardio machines at your typical gym—the elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine and so forth—tracking devices generally provide just a good estimate of your activities. This estimate gives you a comparison point of your progress, which can help you stay active, and that’s a good outcome!

Keeping It Simple

I feel that trackers can be helpful—but they don’t need to be complicated, high tech or expensive. A simple pencil and paper can do the trick. The overall idea is to reinforce your fitness efforts by helping you see your progress, which can help sustain your activities by keeping you accountable.

For fitness goals, whether using a tracking device, app, or pen and paper, use the following guidelines:

  1. Make a specific fitness goal and record your starting point. Per the American Heart Association, the minimum fitness goal for adults is at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days per week. (Moderate intensity means walking and being able to speak in three- to four-word sentences before having to take a breath.)
  2. Start out easy and slowly increase your exercise gradually. Any exercise is better than none.
  3. Document each workout: your activity and total minutes. Exercise duration can be broken up into three 10-minute intervals throughout the day.
  4. Pick activities that you consider fun and change them frequently to prevent boredom.
  5. Be sure to also add some strength training to your regimen to help improve your bone health and fitness.

Creating a varied regimen and tracking your progress can be a huge motivator! You’ll be able to see how you’re doing. Studies have shown that being fit may help extend your life a little, but more importantly, it can improve the quality of your overall life.