Did you get your steps in today?

No matter what the answer to that question is, you probably know exactly what is meant by the phrase “getting your steps in.” That’s right unless you live under a rock, you’re probably aware of the cultural fitness norm of strapping a fitness tracker around your wrist and taking at least 10,000 steps throughout a single day. Over the past few years, tracking and analyzing physical activity with the help of fitness trackers has become increasingly popular, but, according to a new study, these fitness trackers may be doing more harm than good. 

A survey of over 1,800 fitness tracker wearers found that over 45% of fitness trackers have experienced anxiety caused by stress from wearing their tracker, with the average level of stress caused by fitness trackers being ranked at 6.3 out of 10.

Individuals who wear fitness trackers can likely relate to the large number of respondents who expressed tracker-prompted stress. However, for those wondering why exactly seemingly innocent pedometers can cause such anguish, the top sources of fitness tracker stress reported were guilt from not wearing a tracker, guilt about ignoring activity alerts and anxiety from not meeting daily goals. 

Stress from failing to meet fitness goals is an especially complicated issue. On one hand, mental health is so important for individuals, making the statistics around increased anxiety especially disheartening. On the other hand, daily activity is important not just for our mental health but as a strategy to improve mood as well.

Over the course of the pandemic when stay-at-home orders have been a barrier to both physical and mental health, being able to work towards fitness-tracker-prompted activity goals could have been especially important. In fact, the New York Times recently reported about a study that showed how individuals who attempted to maintain their pre-quarantine activity levels suffered less from feelings of depression and boredom. So, perhaps the question we must ask is: Is the stress from wearing fitness trackers worth the mental and emotional benefits that their encouraged activity brings? 

The answer is clear, if not easily achievable: balance. As expressed by Harvard Medical School, physical exercise can be tremendously helpful for anxious individuals in that it can separate people from sources of stress, unlock some happiness causing chemicals in your brain and decrease tension held up in your muscles. However, if exercise is the activity you stress about most, it might be helpful to re-assess your fitness goals and patterns so that you start and finish exercise feeling good and like you achieved something. 

As we move forward into our post-quarantine lives where we are all moving around a little bit more, it’s a good idea for anyone with a fitness tracker to consider their own tracker-fueled stress and make sure that your fitness tracker is actually helping you achieve realistic and joy-bearing activity goals.