How to use a fitness tracker without becoming anxious or obsessive about your data

14th Sep 18 | Lifestyle

As health experts warn that fitness trackers might negatively affect our wellbeing, we find five tips for keeping stat-monitoring in check.

With more of us than ever focusing on wellness and self-improvement, wearing a fitness tracker on your wrist has become just as normal as carrying a smartphone – with everyone from celebrities to middle-aged parents strapping one on.

For some people, having data on your sleep quality and daily activity can be a really helpful way to make healthy lifestyle changes, but for others who are predisposed to compulsive tendencies, it could actually encourage obsessive goal monitoring.

In fact leading surgeon Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons, has warned that devices could put a strain on the health service, as “confused and scared” patients seek medical advice about foreboding health information.

As well as encouraging fears in the “worried well”, trackers can also induce anxiety about reaching set fitness and nutrition goals, to the extent that they become the most important thing to achieve each day for the wearer.

So how can you make sure your relationship with your fitness tracker doesn’t veer into unhealthy territory? Here are a few golden rules for keeping data anxiety at bay…

1. Don’t record every workout

If you want to get out of the loop of obsessive goal setting, slip off your wearable for a few of your workouts. There’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than waiting for your watch to deliver the final results of your gym class, and if your performance and calorie burn is on the decline, it can put a serious dark cloud on your day.

By tuning out from your data, you’ll be able to enjoy the endorphin-releasing benefits of getting your body moving, without obsessing over how hard or fast you’re going in the gym.

2. Stop wearing it at night

The sleep tracker is one of the most fascinating features of today’s fitness trackers. It can tell you how many hours you managed to clock up, how many times you woke up in the night and even how good the quality of your sleep was.

If you suffer from sleep issues though, wearing a tracker could actually be aggravating the problem. Much like checking the clock in the night and stressing about how few hours of sleep you’re going to get, checking your sleep stats in the morning can confirm your worst fears – that you’re not getting enough good quality sleep.

This becomes a vicious cycle as you get into bed and worry again about whether you’re in for another bad evening of interrupted slumber. In fact, researchers have even coined a new phrase for this type of sleep disorder, dubbing it ‘orthosomnia’, with ‘ortho’ meaning straight or correct, and ‘somnia’ meaning sleep.

Ironically, the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep is to take off the wearable and leave it on the bedside table – that way you won’t keep yourself awake with worries about drifting off on time.

3. Don’t compare your stats against your friend’s

When you’ve smashed a workout at peak performance, it can be all too tempting to share your stats on social media, but this type of data sharing can lead to unhealthy comparison and competitiveness.

Much like trying to keep pace with the person next to you on the treadmill at the gym, anxiety about keeping up with others can lead to stress, burnout and potential injury from over-exerting yourself – particularly when it comes to things like peak heart rate and calorie burn.

4. Switch off step count alerts

In a world that’s increasingly becoming desk-based, step counters are there to remind us to regularly move. Which is great in theory, but when missing that illusive 10,000 steps per day fosters self-punishing thoughts, it can have the opposite effect on your wellbeing.

If you’ve started missing out on sleep or skipping social plans to make sure you get your steps in, it’s probably a sign that you should switch off the feature for good.

5. Don’t set yourself unachievable targets

Fitness goals are a great way to stay motivated, but the ‘Big Brother’ nature of wearables can cause you to obsess over every area of your life on a daily basis. Sure, we’d all love to get the perfect amount of sleep, water and exercise every day, but setting unrealistic targets can make you feel guilty about dropping your standards every now and again.

The reality of life means that there are some nights where you’ll be kept awake by a car alarm, some days where life will get in the way of working out and times when you’ll totally ignore your calorie intake because you were too busy having a good time – and that’s OK, because life is all about balance, and you don’t need to rely on your wearable to remind you that.

© Press Association 2018