The One Big Thing Fitness Trackers Haven’t Mastered


The one big thing fitness trackers haven’t mastered is the ability to make you happy. 

It’s no secret that most people who use these devices are not very satisfied with their overall physical activity levels and have a hard time meeting their recommended daily guidelines for exercise.

Fitness trackers can help you monitor your progress, but they won’t be enough to actually motivate you or give you an enjoyable workout experience. 

That’s why it’s important to find other ways of staying healthy too, like cooking more meals at home or taking up a new hobby.

Fitness trackers are everywhere. Almost every athlete I know wears one. There’s something about wearing a fitness tracker that might make us more active – or at least make us feel like we’re more active than we really are. But there’s one big thing they haven’t mastered: diet and sleep.

But even if it can’t do everything, it’s still a good tool for measuring how much exercise time you’re getting and how your activity level is changing day to day.

I’ve been wearing the tracking band Fitbit Charge HR for the past few weeks. And I like it a lot.

The Fitbit and other fitness trackers act as an electronic coach, providing reminders when you’re not moving enough or haven’t hit a daily goal. Some of them even read your heart rate continuously from a built-in monitor.

The Charge HR can track a lot of different activities, including running. But it doesn’t read my heart rate well while I’m out on the road running (it matches my heart rate to my pace but not correct intervals). When I run, I use an arm strap monitor that syncs directly with the GPS on my watch to provide a more accurate reading.

For running, I prefer GPS-based devices like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT or the Apple Watch Series 2 because they provide accurate information on pace and distance. But fitness trackers that rely on motion detection can still be handy (especially if you’re not training for a race or don’t care about speed and distance). The Charge HR is also great for measuring stairs climbed and it even allows you to set a specific step goal. It’s not particularly helpful for cycling, but that’s because I don’t use it when I ride my bike – too much bouncing around hurts the Fitbit battery.

The Fitbit Charge HR has a nice feature that keeps you motivated while you’re sitting at your desk: It lights up and vibrates when you’ve been idle for too long. You have to set the interval – I like 20 minutes or so – but it’s a nice reminder to get up and move around.

Fitbit also tracks how well you sleep, although not as accurately as dedicated devices like the Jawbone Up3. But it’s still great to see how well you’re resting; I like that my average sleep time is usually in the 8-9 hour range (that number will change over the years, of course). And during nights where I get about 5 hours of sleep or less, Fitbit reminds me with a friendly red-colored “sleepy owl” image. When I look at my sleep data on the Fitbit app, it provides recommendations for how to improve my sleep quality – and they’re probably pretty good!

Fitbit also has a nice feature that tracks your weekly exercise summary with color-coded rings (one red, one green) that shift depending on how active you are. For me, the green ring is often empty, but I’m getting better at hitting my daily goal.

But by far, one of the most powerful features in any fitness tracker is the ability to see your data over time. Fitbit provides charts that show your activity level over time and even allows users to set up weekly challenges to motivate fitness partners. It’s all very silly, but also kind of fun.

So in the end, what is a fitness tracker really good for? Not much. But it’s still nice to have an electronic coach that provides gentle reminders – and maybe even some motivation – when I’m being slothful and not getting enough exercise.

More importantly, the Fitbit Charge HR is a nice reminder to get up and move around when you’ve been sitting in front of your computer for too long. And that’s certainly worth something!

So the next time you try to get a fitness tracker, make sure that you also condition yourself that your progress is also making you happy. That way, you will feel happy while having it around!

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