How useful is an activity tracker?

Amid the analysis for my systematic review, I have read a lot about other peoples’ experiences of using mobile phone apps and wearables for monitoring their activity levels. I have also talked to many other people about their experiences when talking about my PhD topic. But what do I think of using an activity tracker? For this post, I will share some of my own personal thoughts on wearing my activity tracker.

My own experiences of using an activity tracker

So, I have been using a Garmin vivosmart 3 for just over a year now. I was a bit apprehensive at first but as my research is exploring the use of activity trackers, I figured I should try one out and see what it’s like.

At first, I found it really interesting to see what my activity levels were. I felt like I wasn’t really doing many steps at all, so I was choosing to take the stairs instead or walk the longer way around.  I didn’t really think about it much, I just did it thinking that will get me a few more steps.

Competition with friends

I started some challenges with friends who also had Garmin devices. My Husband does a lot of long distance running accumulating a lot of steps so I would almost always lose! As I kept losing, I gradually lost interest. Maybe if I wasn’t competing with a marathon runner then I might have tried harder to win?

With most of my family now having devices, I still rarely win or get anywhere close to the top. It is enjoyable to have competitions with friends and I find it fascinating how competitive people can get. But when it comes to steps, I am not really competitive and its absolutely fine that I lose.

‘Move!’ – but I’ve just sat down

After a while, I found the notifications to ‘Move’ rather annoying. They’re useful to highlight you’ve been sitting for a long time at first, but I don’t think the timing of them was particularly good. Sometimes I would just sit down from getting a drink or going to the bathroom and it would vibrate telling me to move again. Also, as it doesn’t track other activities apart from steps particularly well, I was being told to ‘move’ while in the middle of my yoga practice.

I still wear my watch every day now, but I will admit, I have disabled the ‘move’ notification. I like the other notification such as when it tells me I have a call coming in or a new message.

Heart rate and sleep tracking

Knowing what my heart rate is, is not particularly useful or interesting to me. My husband will occasionally look at my heart rate while I am driving or watching a scary movie, as it amuses him how high it goes.

In terms of sleep tracking, I don’t use it. I find it quite uncomfortable to wear at night and I’m not sure about its accuracy and usefulness to me.

Guess how many steps I’ve done today? 

Today, so far, I’ve done 2,684 steps.

I wouldn’t say that my activity levels have increased from wearing an activity tracker, but I am more aware of how little I do. Over the last year my average daily step count is 6520 steps and I have done over 2 million steps in total. My average weekly step count is over 45,000 steps. This doesn’t really mean much to me, to be honest. Is this good or bad? What does this mean for my health? Should I be doing more? (probably). Will I try to do more? (probably not).

So, I may not achieve the recommended physical activity levels, but I am ok with that. I try to do yoga 2 or 3 times a week which I really enjoy, I walk to and from work most days (apart from today), which is about 20 minutes each way. As a PhD student, this unfortunately means a lot of my time is spent sedentary and I don’t particularly have much motivation to run marathons, or to run at all for that matter.

I do still wear my watch almost every day (occasionally I put it on charge and forget about it). On the odd day where I reach my goal I feel really pleased, but this is often because I had errands to run or we have gone on a family day out somewhere.

However, I do feel like for some people they can be really useful. Also, some people really enjoy tracking all their activities, such as my Husband for his marathons. But for me, they are not overly helpful other than to show me I don’t do many steps. Yet, I keep wearing it so maybe one day there will be something else to it.


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The views and opinions expressed in this post are that of Laura Wilde and do not reflect the findings of the pending systematic review.

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