Running on Technology: How Fitness Trackers Changed Our Physical Activity

By Liz Caselli-Mechael with Ruth Ayres, Stephanie Ferguson, and Geraldine McCann 

It seems like every week there’s a new piece of technology meant to help us track our activity. At the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, you will catch many of our team members going for an extra walk after lunch or slipping in a quick lap around the office to keep up their step count. So how have fitness trackers changed our staff members’ behavior?

1. Making quick changes: All of us agreed – there are a few changes you make right away when you know your steps are being tracked. For some, it was as simple as limiting our time spent sitting. Senior manager Stephanie Ferguson says that was the first change she made. “You quickly realize that you have to attack your goal, quite literally, one step at a time. On a typical day, I might not be able to go for a run, so I have to get up more frequently and get my steps in small bursts.”

2. Making long-term changes: Some of the changes we make take a bit longer to implement, as we’re trying to find new strategies to increase our activity. Chief operating officer Geraldine (Ger) McCann has discovered taking the “long way” to get to all her usual destinations. Some changes take longer to discover. I myself have been known to ask, “Wait, we have stairs in this building?” But once you’ve made these new fitness opportunities part of your routine, it will be tough to remember a time without them!

ific-fitness-tracker-ladiesIFIC Foundation Fitness Trackers (L to R): Stephanie Ferguson, Liz Sanders, Liz Caselli-Mechael, and Ruth Ayres

3. Getting encouragement: Some of us have found a real benefit to fitness tracking, such as getting “quick wins” that help us get through the day. For example, Ger takes morning fitness classes, where she sees her steps accumulate quickly in a short period of time. Stephanie gets a motivational boost from a mobile app, where she wins badges and receives positive messages from friends. Wherever you get your encouragement, remembering to acknowledge yourself with a pat on the back is critical to staying motivated.

4. Holding ourselves accountable: Most of us aren’t successful in hitting our goal every single day, but it’s important to avoid being too hard on yourself on an off day – the better approach is to acknowledge it and make up for it with a great day tomorrow. Executive assistant Ruth Ayres started out averaging 5,000 steps each day, but has increased her average to 8,000 by making each day better than the day before.

Our biggest takeaway from experimenting with fitness trackers is that they reinforce one of the most important messages about physical activity: Fun stuff counts! Whether it’s a date for a walk around the park or a dance party in the kitchen, those extra steps add up. With or without a fitness tracker, making a few changes, giving yourself encouragement, and holding yourself accountable for getting some physical activity will put you on the track to wellness.

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