Fitness trackers – friend or foe?

Whether it be Fitbit, Fitbug, Jawbone, Garmin, Samsung Gear or an app on your phone, the latest must have fitness technology is often the talk around the Sassy office! Wherever we go to business meetings those trackers are apparent on most of the wrists around the room – though recent reports indicate that many people stop using them after about 4 months.

We have heard people claim ‘I have lost 10 pounds through my tracker.’ No! According to a recent article by Michelle Roberts, Health editor, BBC News online, wearing an activity device that counts how many steps you have taken does not appear to improve the chances of losing weight, suggests atwo-year long study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). So, while the tracker does not make you lose weight, they do work well with the psychology which supports weight loss for the following reasons:

  1. It acts as a reminder to move. Most people have a visual memory and so seeing something which is linked to movement will make them move more.  Some trackers even have a programmed reminder, giving you an irritating buzz which reminds you to get up and walk around every 30 minutes. In the Staying Sassy office there is a regular run-around the room in order to stop the nagging.

  2. They appeal to the psychology of positive progress. If you set a goal and do not feel success until you have achieved it then motivation goes down over time. If you get many small bits of feedback that you are progressing you will keep going and are more likely to achieve the goal. When you see you are 25% through your goal you will spur yourself on to the next 2,000 steps. When you are only 1,000 steps away from your success-buzz, you just get walking.

  3. Trackers set up competition. Be that competition with yourself, or with others, the drive to do better than the next person is a powerful motivator for movement. We compare our steps daily, the number of floors, the kilometres covered, the badge won. When one Sassista earns a new Fitbit badge, little pangs of envy start to fester and before long the others are doing everything they can to blag that very same badge.

  4. Community. Joining a group and comparing, cajoling, competing and commenting is just what some people need. They feel as if they are being supported and the pain of exercise is more than outweighed by the gain of friendship and support. Most of the tracker manufactures have tapped into our basic need to belong and tracker groups are all the rage.

  5. Awareness. Additional data such as sleep duration and calories burned enable us to make holistic adjustments to our routines and lives. More movement and more sleep is always going to be a good thing in this era of computer-facing

So far, so good, But are trackers really the holy-grail of modern day fitness?

Our resident fitness adviser, Tara Leyden is circumspect. She comments: “I don't tend to advise people to get fitness trackers. I think they are good for some but I've found from talking to a few clients that they get hung up on them and worry they are not getting enough sleep or they are stressing because they haven’t achieved the amount of steps that the tracker is advising. I believe in a self-disciplined, relaxed and enjoyable approach to training.’

The competition can be too much for some people. Other Sassistas have joined friend groups and report feeling under considerable pressure when others are achieving and they are not. So much so, that they have stopped wearing them or removed themselves from the group altogether. Nobody wants to be bottom of the group and have everyone know about it! Other people resent being dictated to by a plastic band round their wrist, like a constant little tyrannical nag.

Like for like is impossible. For example, when Sassista 1 and 2 go on Staying Sassy missions, Sassista 1 is fed up when she has done 50% of the steps achieved by Sassista 2. Why? Because Sassita 2 is small and not only has to trot but takes double the steps to keep up with her longer colleague. However, by the end of the day, Sassista 1 (who has been carrying more body around) has burned double the calories and so feels oh-so smug while sipping her ‘end of shopping cocktail’.

Weird stuff. When Sassista 2 decided to have a tracker vacation and put her band in the hotel safe. When she went home and synced she was more than surprised. How did it manage to do three long walks, a bike ride, a few runs and several flights? Had someone broken in and done her exercise for her? Was there a ghostly athlete marking up the effort? Or was the device spiritually recording Sassista 2’s guilt as she lay on a beach?

Annoying stuff. The batteries go low, the syncing gets tricky, you take them off and forget for a day and have a hole in your data; or in the case of Sassista 1, regularly leave it in airport security. She is now on her 3rdtracker.

But does the novelty wear off? Are they a great fitness revolution or another device to help out big brother? What are the pros and cons, and are they really our friends?

So apart from our own experiences, we checked other research online to find out how others are faring and to look at the pros and cons of wearable activity monitors. In short:



  • They can get you motivated: When Sassista 2 gained weight on holiday (the holiday of the ghost-runs), it was donning her FitBit which started her going back down the scale.

  • They take care of guesswork. On set up of the device you can input personal statistics such as age, height, weight and gender. This means that the readings given are more accurate than those on the treadmill at the gym for example as they are based on bmi and, with some devices, heart rate.

  • Continual awareness. Do you know how few steps you are actually making when you sit at a desk all day? It would shock you. Sassista 2 does less than 5000 steps a day when working from her computer. A walk ensures that she reaches her 10,000 steps (just!) and gets her vitamin D...

  • Holistic measurement: They monitor sleep, energy usage, calories, effort, heart-rate so you can see how you are doing for all-round well-being.

  • They are fun!



  • They can feel like hard work, especially if you are inputting food intake. If you are using one to help you lose weight than the food inputting which may seem exciting and motivating at first, can soon become tedious and also frustrating if the bar code scanner does not recognise the food item so you have to enter it manually.

  • Are they accurate? Whilst they can take the guesswork out, various tests where people have taken to wearing 2 or 3 trackers simultaneously have shown that the results do vary by device.

  • Anxiety. Many people feel under pressure to hit their daily goals and beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them for whatever reason.

  • Hassle. Whilst they do have a good battery life and don’t take very long to charge, they do still need charging! Because many fitness trackers will track sleep patterns, the devices often aren’t charged overnight as is usually the case with other electrical gadgets. You may therefore miss out on recording valuable steps when charging is in progress during waking hours! Oh no! Another cause for distress! The best option we find is to charge during downtime whilst you are sat working at your computer and by connecting via USB.


So, do the pros outweigh the cons? At Staying Sassy, despite the trials and tribulations we have encountered, we think so. They may not be everyone, but surely something that helps to improve fitness levels has got to be good. Remember, it’s your life, your choice.

For more information on fitness trackers and tracker comparisons visit Livestrong, Women’s Health Magazine, PCadvisor.co.uk, Trustedreviews.com

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