The psychology of fitness trackers1 Opinion
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Google the words fitness trackers and you will see a number of different equipment pop up into your browser. You have options to choose from a Fitbit wristband, a Jawbone wristband, a Garmin fitness watch, a Strava watch and more recently the Apple watch. All of these different pieces of fitness equipment can operate in a number of ways including measuring heart rate, GPS tracking, measuring steps, distance covered, pace and calories burned.
We understand the benefits that fitness equipment can have on our physical health but what can they do for our psychological well being. How does technology influence the psychology of exercise? Can these fitness trackers promote and increase physical activity among a nation where 64% of adults are classified as overweight.
Recently I was having a discussion with Professor Andy Lane about fitness trackers and running. Andy is a avid runner and takes part in numerous park runs across the country. Andy mentioned to me that he uses a Strava GPS watch to measure his performance. Not only does Andy see this piece of equipment as something where he can gather all of his physical information but the Strava watch now becomes a social event. The Strava watch allows you to share data with other runners which promotes one aspect of well being which is positive relations with others. This fitness watch allows Andy to discuss different aspects of performance with runners and competitors. Running now becomes fun. Running now becomes an activity where you can interact with other runners and create positive relationships with friends. Running now becomes a social event to discuss, share and interact with the running world.
Often when people go running they mention that they are not having fun. Well maybe these fitness trackers are starting to make exercise fun. Let’s look at the Fitbit. The Fitbit is a wristband which comes with an app that you can download directly to your phone. This app allows you to track all of your data so that you can set daily goals or challenges. You can challenge yourself to try and achieve a certain amount of steps each day. Goal setting can have a number of benefits to any performer. Setting goals help people to focus their attention on the task at hand. They help people to think about the different strategies they will use to achieve these goals. Lets say you set a daily challenge to achieve 10,000 steps. Now you have to start thinking how you will achieve this. The first question you can ask yourself is do I need to exercise to achieve these 10,000 steps? Would it not be possible for you to try and go for 2 walks a day? Too often we worry that we must exercise at a high intensity to achieve a healthy amount of physical activity. Why don’t you start by walking more? Why don’t you try and walk for 20 to 30 minutes twice a day? Not only do goals increase our focus but they also increase your effort in working towards a goal. Goals prolong your persistence and foster the development of new learning strategies.
The best part of the Fitbit app is that you can add friends and start to set challenges against them. You can challenge a friend to a step challenge to see who can do the most steps over a day or week or weekend. Fitness and exercise starts to become social. Fitness starts to add an element of competition. The majority of fitness equipment now come with some fantastic applications which help to monitor numerous aspects of physical performance. Next time you use your app start to think what influence it is having on your psychology. Understand how the application is influencing you to move and exercise and how it applies to your well being.
When we talk about exercise we often assume that people need to be working at a very high intensity for around 20 to 30 minutes every other day. The NHS recommends that adults do around 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, an average of 30 minutes five times a week. We view exercise as something where people need to be panting and sweating to make a difference to their physical health. Why don’t we start to view exercise as movement. If everyone just started to move more would they feel better? The benefits of exercise/movement on mental health has been well documented in numerous research papers. Exercise has shown to reduce depression and anxiety. Through exercise you can develop environmental mastery by feeling as though you are in charge of the situations in which you live. Exercise can improve your personal growth and purpose in life by giving you more new challenges and making you feel as though you have an aim in life.
How can technology be applied to life and work?
Imagine you are a sport club, organisation or business. As director of your business or sport club you want to promote positive mental health. You want your coaches or colleagues to feel good about themselves, to be happy and to feel less stressed. One great way to achieve this could be by investing in some fitness trackers. Activity can now become a social event among your colleagues and in the workplace. Everyone could track their activity, share it with the workplace and even compete with each other. Not only will people start to move a bit more and see the benefits on their physical health but they will start to improve their mental health and well being.
Throughout a working day the majority of us will be sitting behind a desk. For most of us we will argue that it is not easy to find time to exercise. Lets start being inventive. Lets start thinking of different ways of moving throughout a day. Why not try walking meetings? Professor Andy Lane mentioned to me that at his university where he works he arranges walking meetings around the running track. What a great idea to promote movement and physical activity. This movement could then be tracked through a fitness tracker and shared with your colleagues or friends. Why not try and come up with different ways to promote movement around the workplace. If you have a coffee trolley why not try and put the coffee in a room where people have to walk to. Why not try and promote breaks for people to get their daily movement.
Next time you think about exercising think about the benefits that a fitness tracker could have for not only your physical health but your psychological health and well being. Start to think about the psychology of technology and what influence these small pieces of equipment can have on all areas of your life.