Is Keeping Track Getting You Off Track?

The Pros and Cons of Collecting Fitness Data

Beep! Beep! Beep! It’s 6:05AM and your alarm clock is screeching at you to wake up, get out of your comfy bed, and start your day. You consider the snooze button, but instead slam it off and calculate that you slept a solid six hours and approximately twenty-seven minutes. You stretch while your feet hit the floor before walking nine steps to the bathroom. You change into your workout attire, slip on your favorite pair of running shoes, and head out the door in less than five minutes. Scrolling through your music you find the play list you’re looking for, titled “Run, Forrest, Run”. It’s perfectly timed at 43:20 for 5.4 miles, running at a consistent eight-minute pace. Before clicking “play”, you double check that your mile tracker, heart rate monitor, and calories burned counter are set. Then you’re off!

Exactly 43 minutes and 20 seconds later, you’re rounding the block and sprinting through the door, sweating and breathing hard. The mile tracker logs 5.4 miles, the calorie counter says you burned 573 calories, and the heart rate monitor marks your heart rate at 167 beats per minute. Breakfast consists of three egg whites (75 calories), tomato slices (22 calories), and one slice of whole-wheat toast (70 calories), washed down with a glass of unsweetened almond milk (30 calories), which you make sure to log. Followed by a seven-minute shower. The standard two and a half minutes devoted to brushing teeth. So on and so forth. You continue to track out your day.

It’s an extreme example, but with the rise in health and fitness apps, more and more people are beginning to track a variety of health and fitness stats. Why is this data relevant? What is the value of inputting this information in an app? How does this help people reach their fitness goals?

There needs to be a balance between tracking metrics and genuinely striving for success.

The Major Tracked Stats

There are a plethora of health and fitness apps and devices available, most notably are the following:

  • Number of steps
  • Miles run
  • Calorie intake
  • Heart rate

Some people diligently use specific apps to track these stats, but according to Persuasive Technology for Smartphone Apps (2013) the average use of such apps is 2-3 times per week. Of those using wearable fitness trackers, almost half wear them daily while another third use them a few times a week (CEA, January 2014). Using these apps inconsistently or infrequently has the potential to relay unreliable information.

Perhaps someone logged approximately 1,200 calories on Monday through Thursday, but neglected to log the 2,000 calories he/she consumed on Friday (thanks to happy hour) or the 1,885 calories during Sunday brunch. His/her weekly calorie intake would not provide accurate information, so how does this prove helpful overall?

It’s important to evaluate your commitment to using these apps and understanding what the information tells you, as well as why it’s relevant to you specifically. On the flip side, those who daily track every aspect of their health and fitness accumulate an extreme amount of data, but how does this growing list of data benefit them? What is the value of knowing the number of steps they took in an entire day or their average heart rate over the week?

The Benefits of Health Data

According to a CEA study the top three reasons people shared for using wearable fitness trackers were the following (CEA, January 2014):

  • Motivation
  • Monitoring fitness goal progress
  • Monitoring physical activity levels/intensity

Inputting daily data can generate a certain amount of motivation by giving people a sense of control; they have the power to record their information. Fitness apps may also motivate people to remain committed to reaching their fitness goals because it holds them self-accountable, forcing them to be honest with themselves. Knowing about their progress may also encourage them to strive for more progress.

On the contrary, however, a lack of knowledge and understanding about the data that people receive could provide false assumptions and potentially lead to discouragement and slower progress. It’s important to know what your health data says about you and how it affects your health and fitness goals.

You should cross-reference your health data with a health care provider/doctor, trainer, and/or nutritionist. These experts can provide answers regarding the relevance of certain information to you and your health specifically. They can also help you adjust your regimen accordingly to assist you in seeing greater and lasting success.

There are some health stats that can be incredibly important, especially for those with health problems. For example, it’s imperative for a diabetic to be conscious of their sugar and insulin levels. Just as it’s important for people who experience problems with high blood pressure to know their blood pressure. Tracking this kind of information is critical to their health and well being. Again, it’s important that they share this information with their doctor and other health care professionals so that they may understand the meaning of this information and be prepared to know what to do with this information.

The “Naked” Concept

First off, this does not advocate that you start working out in the nude, (unless that’s what works for you and as long as it’s not in public, in which case carry on). The term “naked” here refers to exercising sans technology. Essentially, you are technologically “naked”. Chris Narbone, creator of the running tech blog Amplify and writer of “5 Benefits of Running Naked”, concludes that less is more when it comes to technology and runners. This idea, however, can be relevant to any mode of exercise because technology can become a distraction.

For example, Jason Gay, author of a piece titled “How to Run ‘Naked’ – and Love It”, admits that running with so much technology turned him “into an anxious robot”, even causing him to sometimes stop and check his email. He has recently started running “naked” and loves it because it puts him more in tune with his body, free from distractions (The Wall Street Journal, 2014).

By over complicating something that’s supposed to be simple, technology has the potential to distract and weigh you down. Exercise offers an opportunity to meditate and renew a connection between you and your body. Rather than listening to their bodies, however, people are more readily relying on their smartphones, or any other number of technical devices.

When these distractions occur there is the danger of losing the tranquil quality that physical activity promotes. There is value in treating your workout as quality time between you and your body, allowing yourself to become in sync to the rhythm of your body, rather than the familiar buzz of a text on your phone.

A Few Final Thoughts

This does not mean that people should be universally opposed to using health and fitness technology and apps. They can be great tools, when completely understood and properly used. They can provide useful information, when you know how to read the data. They can motivate and help keep you on track. In some specific cases, they can even keep someone alive. And these are all good things in the journey to attaining fitness nirvana.

In the end, though, it all comes down to you. Take charge of your health and fitness. Use available tools that gel well with your lifestyle and help you down the road to success. If tracking stats benefits you and your fitness goals, then keep on tracking, but be sure to know what you’re collecting and why this data matters to you.

Remember why you choose to live healthy and take care not to become more obsessed with tracking stats than with reaching attainable goals meant to increase your health and happiness. More important than updating your daily fitness log is that you think and feel better about the goals you set, success you achieve, and healthy lifestyle you build.