The Relationship between Fitness Trackers and Mental Health

3 min

The popularity of fitness trackers has been going down ever since 2017. Sales have been declining and there are several factors that could have contributed to the trend. 

For a start, research suggests that the use of fitness trackers isn’t associated with better health or fitness outcomes. In addition, the excitement could wear off quickly and the device may become more annoying than it is useful. 

There is, however, a darker side that also needs to be addressed. The consistent use of fitness and activity trackers could be fueling some mental health problems. If you have an obsessive personality and you often compare your results to those of others, a fitness tracker may not be what you need. 

An Obsession with Health Data Is Not Healthy 

Any kind of obsession can have a detrimental impact on mental health. The prolonged and extensive use of a fitness tracking device can quickly turn into an obsession with the number of calories burned or the number of steps taken.  

There have been instances of people becoming so dependent on their tracking device that they did not consume a meal before logging in the calorie data. 

 As people are becoming increasingly concerned about their health, psychologists are seeing a rise in issues like orthorexia – an obsession with clean eating. Obsessions with exercise and working out more each coming day are also becoming much more common than they used to be. 

Obviously, a society that’s too focused on perfect Instagram bodies is the main culprit for such psychological disorders. Susceptible individuals, however, may experience an even faster progression of their symptoms through the use of a tool like the fitness tracking device. 

Quantity for the Sake of Quality? 

An hour of one exercise isn’t the same as an hour of another activity. Calories burned or calories consumed aren’t the only things that matter when it comes to maintaining optimal health or fitness. 

With fitness trackers, everything is taken down to a numbers game. 

Duke University research suggests that fitness tracking can contribute to a significant reduction in activity enjoyment. Trying to quantify running, biking or a yoga class makes it all about hitting the mark, that milestone specified by a device algorithm. 

Minutes of activity and steps taken aren’t the most important metrics when it comes to fitness. 

In the world of exercise, quality happens to matter much more than quantity. A 20-minute exercise session can accomplish a lot more than an hour of sweating if it is tailored to individual needs. Luckily, there is enough clinical research to back the data up. 

Prolonged sessions are dangerous in yet another way. Apart from contributing to obsessions, they can also lead to aches, stiffness and even bodily injuries due to the intense physical load on the body.  

Many people start sacrificing form to cram in a bigger number of repetitions. Obviously, this contributes to a higher risk of injuries that should not be underestimated. 

Capable of Fueling Eating Disorders? 

That’s an obvious concern with devices that give a specific number of calories burned and calories taken in during the day.  

People who have an eating disorder can start checking their activity tracker dozens of times per day to make sure they’re burning a sufficient number of calories. Day after day, the goal will increase and aggravate that person’s state of mind. Those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are facing a very similar risk. 

Fitness tracking becomes an issue whenever a person spends many minutes (even hours) per day checking the data, planning meals and exercise routines, isolating themselves from friends and loved ones. 

If you happen to do be doing the above-mentioned things, the time may be right to seek change. 

A Passing Trend? 

Do you remember Craigslist? Luckily, an end has come to this era and we already have a Craigslist personals alternative. The same could be true for fitness trackers. 

While wearable gadgets are becoming more prominent by the day, the decline in fitness tracker sales is quite indicative. 

As we are more conscious and interested in our wellbeing, the fitness and health trend is not going to die. It’s affecting many aspects of life and even fast-food chains are starting to introduce healthy options in their menus. 

The fitness trackers of today that are exclusively concerned with data, however, will hopefully disappear and turn into something a bit more beneficial. Fitness and health cannot be reduced to a set of numbers and the approach needs to become a bit more complex. A tracking device that isn’t as qualitative as this one may be much more beneficial and the risk of mental health problems linked to its use will be brought down. 

We’ll simply have to wait and see how fitness tracking will evolve in the years to come. Hopefully, it will turn into a process that’s more inclusive and less competitive. 

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