Fitness Trackers: Motivation or Pure Distraction?

November 13, 2014 Updated: November 13, 2014

Last year my husband got a Fitbit, one of those electronic gadgets that tracks the number of steps you take in a day, monitors your sleep patterns, the calories you’ve burned, and all kinds of other self-indulgent information. My first impression of these devices was that they were a little too obsessive and over the top, and I made up my mind that I would never have one. Well, never is a long time…

I noticed that over the past several months, my husband has been bumping up his daily mileage; walking a little further, running a day or two a week, and trying to meet the electronic goals set by his Fitbit. It was actually motivating him to move a little more each day.

This is a good thing. From the standpoint of Chinese medicine, movement helps your Qi flow. Qi, or energy, is a vital force in your body that fuels every function from immunity to digestion. You need to have enough of this energy to be healthy, and it needs to flow. One of the greatest sources of poor health and discomfort is from the lack of flow of this energy–essentially, it stagnates causing all kinds of symptoms from depression to indigestion to pain.

There are a number of antidotes for this lack of flow, including acupuncture and herbal remedies. However, one of the simplest fixes is moving your body. Many of my patients have told me that their aches and pains, digestion, and even mood are greatly improved by getting a little exercise. Flow creates flow.

One of the greatest problems with getting out there and moving is being motivated to do it. You know it’s good for you, you know you’ll feel better, but…ugh! It’s just so hard to do.


When I was younger, running was my thing. For motivation I set my sites on an upcoming race and worked to run my best. Later, when running races got a little stale, I motivated myself by keeping in shape for backpacking trips. Then I found a group that did a boot camp thing a couple of days a week, which also helped keep me aboard the exercise train.

Now, I’m a little older, and don’t really want to run a race, haven’t been backpacking in a couple of years, and don’t really want to get up at 5:45 am. for boot camp. This is where the Fitbit comes in. When I saw my husband bumping up his activity to please a little black band on his wrist, I thought again about my vow to never do such a thing.

I’ve been wearing my new Fitbit for about three weeks now , and I find myself checking how far I’ve walked every day. I found that on a regular day in the clinic, I log in about 4,000 steps, the equivalent of a couple of miles. This means that I have to push myself a little more outside of work to get in my goal of 10,000 steps each day.

Exercise truly is the fountain of youth. It moves your Qi, improves your heart and lung function, boosts your mood, and helps with sleep, to name just a few benefits. The issue is that it’s hard for many people to find the kick in the butt to go do it. If you’re one of those people, these tips are for you:

-It’s gotta be fun. Pick an activity or an exercise scenario that’s enjoyable and fun. If it’s not fun, you won’t do it–at least not for very long.

-Do it with someone else. I tend to be a lone exerciser, but when I need a little motivation, I’ll set up a time to take a long hilly walk with a friend. We catch up and don’t think about the distance. Or the hills.

-Find something to work toward. Whether it’s a race, hiking trip, or feeling fit for a week on the beach, set your sites for some event in the future and work for it. When the event it over, pick another.

-Start small. You don’t have to kill the world, and if you set your sites too high, you’ll have a hard time maintaining your momentum.

-Try something new. My motivational tricks have changed over the years because what worked for several years no longer works for me now. Switching things up, changing your goals, and mixing up your activities are all a great way to keep things fresh.

-Make it easy. If your chosen fitness activity involves a lot of logistical issues, you will be more likely to pass on it when things get busy. Having to get to the gym, change, shower, and get out back to the office for your 1:00 meeting is a recipe for not getting it done. Have a Plan B that’s easy, like power walking the dog, biking to the store, or setting up a small workout space at home.

It’s noon, and I only have about half of my 10,000 steps for the day. I’m already thinking about how to get the rest of them in. Obsessive and self-indulgent? Maybe, but I’m motivated.

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