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Can a Fitbit make you fit?

When I meet with a new exercise client, I try to get a feel for how active they are currently. The responses vary, but I commonly hear back "I'm busy, I don't have time to do much," "I walk a lot," or "I exercise a couple times per week."

Then I work with my client to quantify what they mean by "very busy," "much," "a lot," or "a couple times."

Accurately defining your current activity level is an essential first step in becoming more active—it serves as a baseline. This is where a Fitbit, Garmin, smartphone app or other fitness trackers can be useful. These gadgets offer an easy way to record not only structured exercise, but all the movement you do in a day.

Once you establish your baseline of activity, you can set goals for more activity and use your fitness tracker to measure your success in accomplishing them. For example, if you want to walk 8,000 steps a day or train for a 5K, you can easily monitor your progress.

However, it's important to recognize that a fitness tracker alone will only take you so far towards meeting your goal.

What is really required to be successful is motivation. If you are motivated, a fitness tracker can be a great way to prompt yourself to exercise more. I actually use mine to help me reach my personal goal of walking 10,000 steps a day.

However, if you are not motivated, a fitness tracker may become just another piece of unused gym equipment. With that in mind, here are some good things to consider before buying a fitness tracker:

  • Can you afford one?
  • Do you want to wear the device and charge it? (Both require new behaviors, which require motivation.)
  • Does the device you're looking at give accurate and timely information? (If not, don't buy it.)
  • Do you already have clear, concise, manageable goals that you are trying to accomplish that this fitness tracker can support?
  • Are you already motivated to change?

If you answered "no" to either of the last two questions, you may want to pursue some different steps before investing in a fitness tracker. These could include:

  • working with a health coach to identify what would motivate you to be active and to set goals
  • identifying family and friends who will make good exercise partners or cheerleaders
  • setting some clear and concise activity goals, and making a plan to accomplish them

Just like owning gym equipment doesn't make you work out, a fitness tracker won't make you fit. The key is motivation. Once you are motivated to get active, using a fitness tracker can help you stay accountable. Like I tell my clients, it's never too late to start an active lifestyle.


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