If you want help to follow through with your goal of becoming more active, you may want to invest in a fitness tracker — or use the one you have more consistently. It turns out that people walk almost an extra mile each day when they use the activity tracker on their smartphone or watch, a study has found.
It only makes sense, says Baptist Health Primary Care physician Kamaljit Kaur, M.D.  “It kind of gives you a little nudge, like, ‘Hey, maybe there is something more I can do to improve my health.’ It can serve as motivation,” says Dr. Kaur, who works at the new Baptist Health outpatient health and wellness complex in Plantation .
Being more active and changing your habits is important, but it can be a challenge. Even people with the best of intentions may fall back into old patterns. Tracking can help, especially if you set a clear and realistic goal, Dr. Kaur says.
“If you see you are only taking 2,000 steps a day, you might take a second look and say, ‘Hey, maybe I can add another 1,000 steps.’ Over time, you can add even more,” she says.
Having an objective daily record of activity can open people’s eyes to how much — or how little — exercise they’ve been getting. When confronted with real numbers, most people work a little harder, research shows.
Study: An Average of 1,850 More Steps
In an analysis published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine , researchers reviewed dozens of studies that tracked exercise activity among those with and without fitness tracking apps. Among the 7,454 people in the study, those who kept track of their steps walked an average of 1,850 more steps each day, a significant difference. (The average person takes about 2,000 steps to walk a mile.)
Those extra steps could improve long-term health — regardless of intensity level. The more you walk, the longer you could live, another study published in the Journal of American Medical Association  shows.
Adding activity to your life doesn’t have to be complicated. To one person, it may mean dedicated walking or gym time — but it also can mean simply walking around during phone meetings or personal calls, moving more around the house, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or parking a bit further away from the grocery store entrance.
Some functions of fitness trackers — such as hourly reminders to get up and walk around, or competitions between friends — may prompt people to move more and then reward them for their activity.
Depending on the tracker, wearers can count steps, calories, distance traveled, calories consumed and burned, and even heart rate and sleep. Some offer GPS tracking to map your distance and pace.
All of that data can be quite helpful, Dr. Kaur says. “My philosophy as a physician is the more information patients have, the more likely they are to take proactive steps to improve their health,” she explains.
Empowering people can go a long way. “A lot of people get discouraged and think there is nothing they can do about their health,” Dr. Kaur says. “They may feel like whatever is happening to them is out of their control. A fitness tracker can give them a different way of looking at things and help them see how even small actions can make a difference.”
The trick is using the tracker consistently, Dr. Kaur says. Also, she suggests, “If there are certain goals you want to set for your health or fitness, be sure to discuss them with your doctor first, so you know you are keeping track of the right things. Everyone is different.”
Some fitness tracker tips:
- Be selective. Choose a tracker that suits your habits. If you leave your phone in your purse or on your desk most of the day, a phone app alone might not be for you. It needs to be on your body. If you won’t remember to charge a wearable device every few days, look for models that have long-lasting batteries. Or if taking it off to shower means you’ll forget to put it back on, consider a waterproof model.
- Use the tracker consistently, every day.
- Set a goal. Goals should be realistic and attainable. Once you’ve reached them, you can set new ones. Check with your doctor to help determine what’s right for you.
- Recruit friends and family to use trackers as well. It can create a social support network and even foster a sense of fun competition.
- Be accountable. Check your numbers every day.
- Celebrate your success. It’s a great feeling to achieve what you’ve set your mind to. It’s OK to brag a little. You might even inspire someone else.