Mixed motivation

I have a love-hate relationship with my FitBit.

On one hand, an activity tracker can be quite motivating. It helps you set, work toward and achieve health and fitness goals.

On the other hand, it can make you feel dejected or disappointed or frustrated when you don’t meet your goal.

One of the main components of an activity tracker is the step counter. And lots of research says that we should aim for at least 10,000 steps a day, for better health and fitness.

I have a few personal conflicts with that number.

Activity trackers might help you meet your goals

Activity trackers might help you meet your goals

First, it can be difficult to get in that many steps in a day, depending on your job and your schedule. I have a very sedentary desk job and a two-hour round-trip commute. Even when I try and remind myself to get up and move around every hour during the workday, and even when I make it a point to walk to the restroom way on the other side of my office building or even on another floor, the cumulative step addition is not as significant as I’d hope.

Second, it’s important to do a variety of types of exercise, not just walking. (Which feels slightly blasphemous to say, given the root topic/name of this website, but…)

I try to alternate a day of cardio with a day of strength training. And that day of cardio might not be walking — it might be bicycling, either stationary (at the gym) or outdoors (season permitting). Or it might be rowing, a great full-body exercise.

Given my schedule, time for exercise has to be carefully allotted. On weekdays, I have about 45 minutes for a workout. That doesn’t leave enough time to always get in 10,000 steps (at least via an “official” workout). Even if I devote my 45 minutes to treadmill time, I won’t hit that number.

All that said, what about the motivation factor of an activity tracker? I know for sure that they can definitely encourage wearers to reach their step goal. I have friends who have walked around in circles while waiting for a traffic light to change or have gone out for a 1.5-mile walk late in the evening to reach their step goal. To them, I offer praise.

And if you take advantage of the “challenge” factor that some trackers have — FitBit allows you to invite friends to step challenges over the course of a day, weekend or week — the competition factor might be super motivating if you hate to lose!

It took me three-plus hours of snow shoveling this weekend (#blizzard2016) to reach 10,000 steps. I was excited to feel that “you reached your goal” vibration on my wrist, but a little fed up that it took me three hours of constant movement to earn it.

Probably the greatest thing about activity trackers is that they allow you to tailor your activity and goals for you.

Set your step goal for what feels attainable without frustration over scheduling or workday obstacles. Track your mileage. Keep tabs on your heart rate during activity. Set and stick to a workout routine, above all else, and in the long run, that’s the activity worth tracking and the goal worth keeping.

Happy exercising!

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