You know how it goes: Joe buys a treadmill for his basement and logs miles on miles during the first few weeks it's down there. Then, at some point, it becomes a storage platform for his sweaters. But is the same true of fitness trackers?
It's certainly not for many of us who know for a fact that fitness trackers are not a fad. But, for those who do end up stuffing the device in a drawer months or years after purchase, what makes them do it? And how does that make us feel? Guilty? Liberated? Informed? Researchers from the University of Washington sought to find out in their latest study.
The team looked at 141 Fitbit users who’d abandoned their tracker (at least temporarily). The researchers surveyed the participants to see how they felt—to get a feel for the dominating emotion(s) post-Fitbit.
About half of users said they felt guilty about their abandonment; 21 users said they got no value from using the tracker and found it annoying or struggled to connect their data with a real-life plan to instill a behavior change; five people believed they’d learned all they needed to know about their habits and didn’t need to further their use; 45 reported having mixed feelings about ditching their device; but, ultimately, nearly all participants said they’d likely return to activity tracking.
Researchers also showed the men and women seven different ways of framing the data their devices collected in order to see if the way information is presented can offer more encouragement to be healthy and engaged with their tracker. Understandably, users responded differently to seeing their old data presented in new ways—but that all depended on their personal tracking history.
Those who had tracked their fitness levels for less than four months preferred visualizations that showed them which days of the week or time of day they were active.
Those with a longer track record preferred visualizations highlighting how long their bouts of activity were.
Not surprisingly, most people preferred social comparisons that made them look better than other people in their age group. For example, they preferred seeing their data presented as "you walked more than 70 percent of people," over “30 percent of people walked more than you."
The team also found people who felt guilty about abandoning their Fitbit use were very receptive to recommendations that guide them back toward tracking.
People who felt they had gotten what they had wanted out of tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful. If you're a creature of habit and see, on average, how many steps you walk every day and how many calories you burn during workouts, you're less inclined to keep tracking.
HOW THIS MIGHT CHANGE THE TRACKING INDUSTRY
The researchers say it's obvious, from these responses and results, that a one-size-fits-all design approach misses the mark. There's a big opportunity for companies to support different types of users. The personalized approach to health and fitness is in full swing, so it makes sense it would translate to trackers, too.
"Right now self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that's clearly not the case," study co-author James Fogarty said in a press release. "Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they're done, or reconnect them to the app for weeklong check-ins or periodic tune-ups that don't presume they'll be doing this every day for the rest of their lives."
We're pro-trackers; check out How Decoding Your Resting and Maximum Heart Rates Can Help You Crush Your Workouts and Avoid Overtraining; choose a device from The Best Fitness Trackers for Every Athlete and Athletic Endeavor.