How should I really use my activity tracker?
Forget the instruction manual; this is how you really should use your activity tracker!
Activity trackers have helped many people bring awareness to their activity level and challenge themselves to move more. Whether you've considered purchasing one or you already own one, consider these tips to get the greatest benefits:
Start by just wearing it. When you first get your tracker, avoid setting a step goal, a calorie burning goal, etc. and just wear the device for one week. While 10,000 steps may be the recommended daily goal, it often is not a realistic one to achieve right away. By wearing your device for one week you can get an idea of what your baseline daily step count is without purposefully trying to get more steps. Once you know what your baseline is then you can start setting goals.
Be realistic with your goal. Lifestyle change is a marathon, not a sprint; you don't need to nor should you get 10,000 steps each day your first week. Make realistic short-term goals. Aim for 500-1000 daily steps more than your baseline for at least the first week, or until you feel ready to increase it again.
Reconsider combining calorie tracker with activity tracker. Many apps used to track activity (such as My Fitness Pal) can also be used to track food and calories. While this may sound convenient, it can also result in a pretty unhealthy relationship with food and exercise because the apps typically change your target calorie goals based on how much exercise you get. This might lead you to use food as a reward for moving more, restricting calories because you haven't moved enough or using exercise as a punishment for whatever "treat" you had earlier in the day – all of which are unhealthy behaviors. Food should be consumed when physically hungry and once in a while enjoyed when not hungry; not based on how "good" or "bad" you've been today.
Use it, but don't obsess. As with many things, activity trackers can rule your life. Make a plan of how often you are going to check your progress throughout the day to avoid obsessing over it. Don't go to unhealthy measures to achieve your goal. For example, if you're getting ready to climb into bed at 10:00 pm and haven't hit your steps goal, you don't need to go for a walk just to hit that exact number. You can initiate friendly competition with friends or family to challenge each other to move more, but avoid letting that competition sour relationships or lower your self-esteem.