Why I Decided to Get Off the Tracker Train

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Activity trackers are all the rage these days, as you see people wearing them on their waistbands, shoes and wrists. Popularized by Fitbit and Jawbone, it seems there is now a fitness tracker for every personality and health need. These tiny devices track a plethora of information—how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, how many flights of stairs you’ve walked, how much sleep you’ve gotten and more. Basically, conscious or unconscious, your tracker knows your body better than you.  

Of course, more information is always better so that you know exactly how active you’ve been at any given moment of the day. Who wouldn’t want to have these stats at their fingertips? Cue me raising my hand right now. Surprised? The fact is, I gave up my activity tracker after I decided it was doing me more harm than good.

Believe me, I understand that these devices can be a great source of motivation for someone who is trying to squeeze more activity into their days or knows a fun gadget is the way to get them moving. For others, though, it can become a source of stress and negativity. Consider the following scenarios:  
  1. You’re in a friendly step competition with co-workers at the office, or a few moms from school. You’ve been trying to get in more steps to keep you at the top of the leaderboard, but it never seems to be enough. There is always someone else doing more, which becomes frustrating. Soon, instead of challenging you, the constant disappointment makes you want to forget the whole competition.
  2. You suspect your friend who trains for triathlons likely gets 5,000 more steps a day than you. Comparing numbers with her only confirms your suspicion, and makes you realize it’s actually closer to a 7,000 step difference.
  3. According to your device, you’re burning 2,500 calories per day. Knowing how much you’re consuming, you start to expect a certain amount of weight loss to be reflected on the scale. When the scale doesn’t cooperate (which often happens), you’re ready to throw in the towel.
  4. You have a sedentary job, which means that exercise is the only way to reach your daily 10,000 step goal. You feel guilty taking rest days because that means you fall short of the goal.
I've built a career around my love of exercise, so adopting a fitness tracker was a natural progression. However, after using it for about 6 months, I found that my device began taking the enjoyment out of my routine. I started gravitating toward activities that would register a lot of steps, regardless of whether or not they were workouts I planned or even wanted to do. On the days where I failed to reach the prescribed 10,000 steps, I felt badly, even if it was a day where I wasn’t feeling well or my schedule was just hectic. As I started realizing these changes in my mood and routine, I decided to stop wearing my device.

I’ve always done better when I listen to my body, because it tells me when I’m doing too much or not enough activity. Choosing to take the device off and just focus on how I’m feeling allowed me to enjoy my workouts more and really be in tune with how much to push myself. I was happier because of it.

Soon after, my nine-year old daughter asked if she could wear my activity tracker to school. Turns out, comparing and competing for the most steps was the hot new conversation topic between friends at lunch and she wanted in on the action. I initially thought it could be a nice way to get kids excited about moving, but as she started talking about comparing calories burned, I quickly decided it wasn’t a good idea. Kids shouldn't face added pressure related to activity, but should be encouraged to exercise because it’s fun and keeps them feeling strong. 

If your tracker inspires you to move and get excited about exercise, that’s great! But if you feel yourself falling down the rabbit hole and focusing too much on the numbers, keep in mind that these devices are all based on estimates. Your device uses an estimate of your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) along with the activity it detects to come up with a calories burned estimate for the day. I emphasize the word estimate because BMR calculations are based on estimates of how many calories an average person of your age and size burns, meaning the actual number varies from person to person.

Furthermore, depending on the placement of your tracker and the type of exercise, the possibility exists that your device won’t pick up all of your activity. Rarely do two devices record the exact same number of steps and calories burned. This isn't to say that the data from an activity tracker is useless. In fact, it can be extremely helpful as long as you don’t get too tied to the numbers. It’s important to recognize that it is impossible for them to be 100 percent correct all the time.

Over time, I’ve gotten used to people asking why I don’t wear this device or that one. My response is simple: The numbers no longer motivate me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t motivate you. At the end of the day, do what works best to keep you on track with your health and fitness goals for the long run.

Do you wear an activity tracker? Why or why not?

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NANASUEH 2/4/2018
so true Report
FB17CAT 1/30/2018
I wear a fitbit, but it does not record any step equivalents for cycling. I often get out for a 50 to 75 km bike ride, and then get disappointed that I still have to add 7000+ steps to meet my daily goal. I would be happy if I could input my activity and get credit for the bike rides. Report
MOLLIEMAC 1/28/2018
Great article! I have an Omron pedometer that I only use when I do my "long walk" once a week, for my daily 4-5 mile walks I don't bother with it. Simple to check my heart rate using my watch. I feel at lot of these devices are highly over rated and often give users false information. Report
EZRASMEMAW64 1/1/2018
I've noticed that my charge 2 often under records my steps, the stairs I climb, the time I am active. But I have learned to deal with the "problem". However, it is frustrating. So maybe it is time that I lay it aside for a while. Report
EZRASMEMAW64 1/1/2018
I have a fitbit charge 2. I have noticed that it is very seldom accurate. I walk the halls of my apartment building. It is 632 steps from one end to the other end of the hall where I live. Report
I_ROBOT 10/24/2017
I bought a tracker but have stopped using it. I discovered that it counted bumps in the road as I drove down the road, reporting them as steps. What good is that? The reported calories were not accurate at all. For counting steps, I went back to using a mechanical pedometer and I mostly use that while on the treadmill.

However, I do use my Polar heart rate monitor to watch my heart rate while working out. I have a very specific beats per minute range that I watch closely while on power walks. It helps me stay in a zone. It works accurately and gives me calories burned during my workout based on my body weight and heart rate. I trust it over any other tracker. As my heart gets stronger, the bpm drops, so I push myself harder to stay in the desired range. It's real-time feedback on how I'm doing. I can watch my heart beat in real time on my smart phone using a heart rate monitor app. The data is transferred to Google Fit where it then is uploaded to SPARKPeople. So for me, I'm more interested in miles walked and calories burned. When doing strength training, I can see when I have recovered enough to hit the next circuit. Report
PAMBROWN62 9/20/2017
My Fitbit is a great tool for me. Prior to buying it I barely made 2500 steps a day. I led a very sedentary lifestyle. However, the Fitbit gets me up and moving. Now getting 10000 steps is a daily goal. I like friendly completion as well. If I get into a completion where people are pushing for 100,000 steps, I bow out of those types of exercise. I am only on completion with one person, me. When I reach my daily goal, all other steps are an extra bonus. That is how I use my tracker. I won't let a thing (the tracker) bring stress or negativity to my journey. It's hard enough. Report
DAWNFIRE72 9/20/2017
I wear my Gear S2 for more than just the activity tracking capability. I like to go for walks but also like to be able to respond to text messages, my smartwatch allows me to use voice to text to respond without having to take out my phone and unlock it to answer. Or I can also choose to ignore the messages or phone calls as it notifies me through the watch. I also use it as a pedometer but don't feel too badly if I don't make step count (do make a point to do that at least 4 days per week). It tracks my sleep pattern (accurately?? not sure but gives me some insight) as well. It is also my primary time keeper and timer for cooking as my stove doesn't have a buzzer. Report
MSLOUIE3 9/15/2017
I agree with gaving a healthy perspective about a tracker. Many of the challenges on this site have step minimums as part of the challenge. They can motivare or frustrate. I bought a pedometer, then lost it so now I use my phone. I injured my hip trying to do too much so I had to put it perspective anfd now i strive for daily exercise not attached to a specific number of steps or miles. It is importaht that I keep moving and -192 lbs later, I am pleased. Report
D05438 7/18/2017
I have a friend who lives by her fitbit. If she doesn't reach the steps goal, she's unhappy.. But if she reaches the step goals, she brags. It's really annoying to be honest. I prefer to concentrate on today, and do my best to make and reach a goal every day. one day at a time! Report
DRBARNETT 7/18/2017
I wear one provided by insurance company. You earn money by meeting certain daily goals that I want to meet anyway. Report
_LINDA 7/3/2017
I wear a Fitbit, a basic one which I had got to track my sleep initially. I love exercise and have no problem getting steps in and don't compete with anyone. It never worked for me for sleep tracking so its just a step and mileage counter. I don't sync it with Sparkpeople. I use a GPS watch to track my real exercise mileage. Report
I use a regular pedometer. That stupid rule about 10,000 steps was started by some fool man as just another fitness fad because he knew he could sell a lot of books easily to the sheep that fall for every so called fitness idea that comes out. Plus so many fitness gadgets are not set up right, and people don't really get as many steps in as they think, because they didn't set it right. Report
Hi, Jen Mueller! Thank you for your article and personal experience. Do you feel the same about using heart rate monitors? Personally, I use both Fitbit and an HRM. I like the data and use it to plan my workouts. Report
Wow, thanks for posting this. It's refreshing to read someone who goes against the trends. I like my FitBit only because It does motivate me to move more. However, I totally agree that it could be really harmful if I allowed it to be. I can totally see how it might be a really negative thing and really agree that young people and kids probably shouldn't wear them. Thanks for providing balance to this conversation. Report
I enjoy my trackers. I started with a Spark tracker which I loved, but I frequently lose them and at 50 buck a pop on Amazon, they are kind of expensive to use disposably. I tried a Garmin, but it gave me over a thousand steps while I was shaving in the shower. It also gave me steps while I was sleeping, lol. I finally got an app for my phone that I love. It counts my steps and my distance, plus my calorie burn based on my weight. It's more accurate than anything else, but I still wear my Spark tracker on my shoe for verification. I feel like others who say they wear it because it sparks them to work out. It does that for me, too. I love to see the numbers add up. I have a few days here and there when I don't walk - I usually go to the pool at the gym then. These have been the difference between me remaining sedentary and disabled and getting back out into the world. The change in me has been astounding. I went from being someone who camped out on the sofa or the recliner every single moment of the day that I was not pushing myself to do something that should have been easy to being someone who can run errands and then still walk 3 miles in the evening. I'm still disabled to some extent, but I feel really good. I've lost about 33 lbs. since then and I need to lose a lot more but I've been concentrating on feeling better and being healthier. Apparently, that is what I should have been doing all along. Sorry for the tome. Report
It was really refreshing for me to read this blog. I have been feeling a bit 'left-out' because I don't have a smart phone, or a fitness app or activity tracker. I have a little mobile phone with a countdown and a stop-watch - so I can time my runs, and check my own heart-rate. I also have a little metronome that I use from time-to-time to check my cadence. I guess it depends what you want to focus on. Report
I have never found my tracker to be 100 percent accurate. In fact I have stood still and watched as it counted steps.
So, I would always try to estimate how many steps I actually took, and would guess about 1 step for every 4 that my tracker was counting.
But I still use it for the time. And it does seem to keep my distance correct.
So, for that reason I keep using it, mine doesnt have calorie burn, I am sure if it did I would think I was burning much more than I actually was. But I will use it to keep my time and mileage, I know I walk about the same amount, around 3 to 3. 5 miles. Report
I like the fact that you emphatically state that the choice is up to the individual and that in your case, listening to your body as someone who exercises regularly, makes more sense. I also understand when you say that the numbers seem to take over from the exercises for you.

I can totally relate to all that you have said. I exercise 5 to 6 days a week and on the 3 days that I work out in the gym, I do not record the required number of steps. In the beginning, I was fairly obsessed with making sure that I got the 10000 steps regardless of the fact that I may have done the equivalent in my 80 minutes of PT. Nowadays, I wear my Fitbit Charge HR to either tell me how fast I am running the same route or how much time between sets am I actually resting.

And I am much happier. Thanks for the article. Enjoyed it!! Report
i love my fitbit.. keeps me motivated! Report
I gave mine away too. Was just another thing to become obsessive and compulsive about. Fitbit flex didn't show the number of steps unless you went on the computer all the time to check it. Wasn't accurate either, since if I wasn't moving my arms, it didn't register my steps correctly. Didn't need the aggravation or stress. I'm better off just tracking my actual mileage. Report
Having a Fitbit has been very motivating in offsetting my sedentary job. I used to only get 1 mile in between 6 am-6pm. Realistically, I'm not moving much during the day, and it's unlikely I'm going to come home and get into tough routines. It has helped me though to reach reasonable goals, and aim for more when I can. I am now getting 2-3 miles, if I get lunch breaks, by the time I get home and I enjoy getting outdoors as much as possible and beneficial dvd workouts. I am reaching 5000-7000 steps per day, but there isn't "pressure" on myself to make this happen, it's natural, enjoyable, sensible movement. I don't do competitions, it's too stressful and takes the joy out of movement. Report
Interesting that on the front page this article is labelled "Fitbit Fail," not "Fitness-Tracker Fail." I agree with the concept of the article, especially as it relates to kids. I disagree with Fitbit having somehow been singled out in a main attention-grabbing headline, as if Fitbit (perhaps the most popular of activity trackers) is somehow "bad." Let's be sure to include the SparkTracker in this group. Otherwise the headline sounds like a hype for "non-Fitbit activity trackers - especially the SparkTracker."

Personally, I love my Fitbit. It's another useful tool in my healthy-lifestyle toolbox.
:-) Report
I love my FitBit. It's just another tool in my arsenal for controlling my diabetes. I use it to make sure I stay on track with exercise, food and sleep. I don't use it to compete with others. I think that is the key for me. Report
I got a Fitbit Charge HR to help me get my act together. I've gained about 14 lbs in the past year (and more before that) and have high BP. I negotiated with my doc to try to regulate my BP with diet and exercise because I don't want to be on medication for the rest of my life - I'm not even 40 yet! I've only been using the Fitbit for a week and so far I love it. I have a very sedentary job and it's way too easy to just sit at my desk during break instead of going outside. I'm very fortunate in that I work close a lovely shoreline trail so there is no excuse not to get on it. I've been walking every day and clocking in an average of 14,000 steps a day. I realize this is not the average and I get such high numbers thanks to my breaktime/lunchtime walks plus avoiding the shuttle and walking to the train station at quittin' time. I always have my phone with me, a Galaxy S6 which has S Health counting my steps as well. Other than the numbers being off by maybe 5 steps here and there, I figure if both devices are calculating similar activity, I should be fine. I don't obsess over how many steps I take, I don't let the thing around my wrist rule me...it works for me, it gets me motivated to get healthier and drop the weight I need to drop. I compete with myself but it's fun for me. I have joined a group here on Spark and done a challenge but as I said, I compete with myself more than anything (my 40 lbs lighter self). I know these activity trackers aren't for everyone, but my Fitbit is helping me reach the goals I've set for myself: to lose weight and get back to my healthiest, happiest shape and to be able to go on hikes with my brothers again this summer. Report
We had a competition at work to take so many steps per day for 21 days - completing challenge would allow you to earn $100 towards your HSA. People averaged out the # of steps you would need per day, but teams were encouraged to walk 10,000 regardless of an individual's fitness level or health.

The first few days were fun, but after that people began to obsess over their numbers, and that of their teammates, becoming upset if someone wasn't pulling their weight (by that, I mean, despite hitting the absolute minimum amount, they weren't making the 10k). One lady on my team despaired that our top walker was on a "losing team," which was extremely frustrating to overhear.

A year prior to this challenge, I had been hospitalized and was dealing with a seven inch surgical wound in my leg that refused to close up. Walking was excruciating. Thankfully, I finally recovered, but at the time I never imagined I'd be able to walk for any real length, much less participate in a fitness challenge. I also hit a down cycle in my health (I have heart problems) and was simply unable to make the 10k steps per day. I did my best, which was often over the minimum amount, but it was never good enough for our loser team.

I never want to participate in one of those challenges again, $100 or not. Report
I myself have started to wear the Garmin Vivofit2, and I find it ok. Thanks. Report
I was using a Fitbit, but stopped after a few weeks. It was not accurately recording my steps (one day it had shown I had done 100 steps, while just driving, and another day that I had done 12000 steps, when the one around my waist, because I suspected it was wrong, more accurately showed 2500 steps.

I recently started using looking at the heart app on my phone and showed it to a friend. The next day, at 9am he gloated he had already done 3000 steps, when I only just started reaching because of a back injury. I replied back, that it wasn't fair to compare us, as a he had longer legs than me and b he didn't have a back injury, and then stopped.

I have to do my steps in 500 steps lots and then rest because of my back injury. My only competition is myself, to reach a minimum of 2500 steps, even on a bad day, and if it is a good day, 50 more steps than I did my previous good day.

So far, it is keeping me motivated, which was to move more than I was, which is the only competition I need, and never record steps only food in spark people for that reason. I don't want the excuse I can eat more in a day, because a gadget told me I could use up more calories, because I had burned more calories in the day.

The weight is very slowly coming down, and that is all I need to know. Report
I know for a fact that my Fitbit Zip is not at all accurate in determining calories burned, and I'm fine with that as I only use it to count my steps. It does motivate me to get in more activity, so I will continue to use it. Like anything else, one needs to keep the numbers in perspective. Report
I use my phone to track exercise and find it really helpful in keeping my fitness up. Report
I love my fitbit and wouldn't consider stopping. Sorry it wasn't right for you, but for me it's a wonderful tool. Report
I wear a Fitbit One 24/7 except for showers and charging it. I originally had the Fitbit Ultra, but wore it out (it came unglued at the seams). Since it was under warranty and no longer in production, the Fitbit company replaced it with the One. I think it was about three years ago.

I got the original Fitbit primarily for the sleep reporting function, but have found that it does inspire me to move more. I have a sedentary job and right now my goal is for 4500 steps a day. I usually end up having to do about 20-25 minutes of WATP in the evening to get to that goal.

I don't really compete with anyone but myself and really use only the pedometer function for my goal setting. Report
Great article Report
I have a fitbit one. I got it on March 22, 2014. Since then, I have tracked over 10 million steps and am close to reaching the 11 million mark. I have lost 40 pounds and am slowly trying to keep losing to the 50 pound mark. My blood pressure is down to normal and my cholesterol is great. I track at least 10,000 steps a day and usually more. My max is 35,000 in one day. My doctor says I am in very good shape for my age. Not perfect, but that's okay. There have been times when I quit trying to reach any set goal, and there have been times where I try to max out. It's fun. I don't compete with anyone, but I have friends that cheer me every day, and that's fun. No pressure, just do it because I like to do it. It actually combats the stress that I feel in my life to be able to get out and just walk for the steps of it. If it ever breaks or gets lost, I will definitely get a new one! Report
I use a low tech tracker - the Spark Activity Tracker (SPAT) which isn't sold anymore. It does exactly what I want, counts steps and only calls it a workout when the steps are of more than 10 minutes duration. It computes mileage and calorie burn too, but I can figure out my own mileage and my body is the best measure of calorie burn. Weighing daily is what keeps me in maintenance. Report
I just use my tablet, as my tracker but I do use it for when I am walking everyday. And I feel like I dont have to hit my goal of 5,000 steps every day but can at least try. Report
I do wear a tracker. I do compete in a few daily/weekly challenges with family and friends. There are people who I know will always have more steps than me. A lot of my friends are line dancers like me. But at the end of the day the only person I am in competition with is myself. And the point of the day when my trackers buzzes telling me I have reached my goal it always brings a huge smile to my face. Report
I also have a Fitbit Charge HR and I love it. The only competition is with myself striving to get more steps each day. I have high blood pressure and it helps me with my HR. I, also, don't join any groups because it is only for my benefit. Report
Love my Charge HR, a true game changer. It honestly helped me understand the significance and need to elevate my heart rate for improved health and fitness. Because my fake knees are nine years old, I do not use the device to compete with others over the number of steps I take...I join zero challenges, I friend no one on Fitbit...especially my family! Ha. The data is wonderful, it motivates me and it has given me so much insight on what it takes to lose inches, fat, pounds...to become lean, fit, strong!

On the flip side, I am surprised at the number of people who mention not worrying about steps when they forget to wear their device. Hello healthy heart, what?! Seriously, while moving beats sitting EVERY time...there is a vast difference between heart thumping cardio and moving/tracking steps and being active. I find it ironic that so many wearing devices really have adopted a fit in a bit mentality...without realizing it. When I use the device as a tool to motivate me, it truly is an important piece in my healthy living puzzle. Report
Yes. I do wear a tracker and it does motivate me. It's fun to see the steps mount up. I am only mildly in competition with a few girlfriends but much more competitive with myself to reach my 10K steps. I lean on it to keep me more active when I'm NOT exercising. My exercise schedule is almost unconnected to my step counting. Report
The issues you describe have less to do with tracking and more to do with the drive to compare and compete. And we know that anything done obsessively is unhealthy. The same can be said about getting on the scale, or even tracking nutrition. For some of us, listening to "how our body feels" hasn't worked and is not so easy to learn. Tracking my steps and my nutrition gives me freedom and confidence, knowing that I am where I want to be. Report
When the tracker first came to be, my thoughts was that it was for those who don't exercise much and wanted every movement to count. It may know my body, however I know what's best and works for me. No, I never had a fitness tracker and also felt it was just another fad gadget. For those that it works for, congratulations! My competition is becoming a better me! Report
I have a Fitbit Charge HR that I "upgraded" from the One I started with. I wanted the HR because I needed to keep an eye on my heart rate during strenuous activity. Somehow I need to know my heart rate in addition to heeding symptoms like nausea and feeling light-headed. I do like the motivation it provides me, but I pay more attention to how I feel overall and if I don't hit my "step goal" it's ok. I actually have a step range: 5,000 minimum, 10,000 desired, and anything over 10,000 is a WooHoo. Report
I have a Gear Fit. I got it as a Christmas present two Christmas' ago. I wear it primarily for the watch. I don't really think it is an accurate measure of steps, so it is a fun thing to have. I don't let it rule my day. Report
I contemplated getting one several times, and even added one to my "Wish List" at some point. But I realized that for me, it was a waste of money...and not a small amount either! I manage to track everything in a "manual" way and log it all on SP without a problem! I'm pretty self-motivated, and don't have anyone to "compete" with anyway. And I learned, long ago, that the "calories burned" figures are never accurate... Report
not yet can't really justify it right now. I think I would be better off getting more or different exercise equipment (like battle ropes etc) Report
I totally agree with what you are saying. I joined a Spark Fitbit team for a couple of weeks. I felt so pressured by the competition that I felt I was risking my health trying to keep competing. Also, it's hard to be in competition with people from other countries (time zone difference). I get ALL my steps from actual walking. Some people can jump on a treadmill for a period of time and rack up steps. I'm 68 and others are much younger. I finally decided it wasn't for me as I was actually losing sleep trying to stay near the top. I think for some competition is great...but not for all. I do like my fitbit as it really motivates me to move. I wouldn't give it up but I only want to compete with myself. Report
I've owned fitbit products, the SparkPeople Spark, a misfit, jawbone, and am now back around to another fitbit. I enjoy the estimate of my daily activity, but never let it "get to me." I average between 15,000 and 20,000 steps a day before exercise and get a kick out of seeing just how high I can push it. As for "friendly competition," I am my only competitor. After all, I do this for ME. Report
I lost my Spark fitness tracker( always worked the best for me) now I can,t buy one any where and have others but not sure they are all that accurate so now I just keep moving and I will never get to 10,000 with my disabilities so I just do the best I can like go on the cycle for 20 - 30 minutes , garden and whatever I think i do ok for an old girl with a bad back! I seem to be able to cycle and it doesn,t bother my back problem Report
I LOVE my tracker (Samsung Gear Fit). I get text messages and phone calls on it, so I can leave my phone on silent. It also helps me locate my phone AND it inspires me to move more. I really noticed the difference when it was in for repairs. My average is 8000 steps a day, which is fine. As long as I get over 5000, I am satisfied. If I get over 10,000 I am really happy. I don't compare with others Report
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