How To Get Started With An Activity Tracker

It's great that you're tracking your activity level, but what are you doing with all the data you collect?


By B.J.


Wearable technology is the new hotness. Smartwatches and activity trackers are here to stay, and there’s probably a good chance that you already have something that tracks you as you go about your day. You have a stream of data about yourself, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it doesn’t do you any good.

Having data is useless if you don’t know how to interpret it.

I’ve worn an activity tracker daily for the past year, and I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my habits because of it. I think I’m a healthier person today than I was a year ago, but that’s because of how I used the data my tracker collected.

Most trackers collect a lot of different kinds of data, but there are only two that people really pay attention to: how many steps you’ve taken and how much time you spend being active during the day.

But what do you do with that data once you have it, and how can it increase your fitness levels?

Step Tracking

Let’s start with the most common use of activity trackers: step tracking. Most people have heard about a 10,000-step goal, and while that’s a very admirable goal that can have good results, the CDC actually says that instead of an arbitrary number of steps, you should strive for a realistic and maintainable goal such as walking 15 minutes a day.

However, if you want to use the 10,000 step goal, there’s nothing wrong with that and the best route is to start off slow. Use your activity tracker for a week just going about your daily life. If you see that after 7 days you’re getting an average of 5,000 steps a day, then increase that for the next week and try to average 7,000 steps a day (that’s adding about a mile of walking because 1 mile is roughly 2,000 steps.)

Within just a few weeks, you’re at the 10,000 step goal, and you’ve done it gradually so that your body can get used to the increase in activity levels. And when you look at the 10,000 steps a day at 2,000 steps per mile, you’re walking approximately 5 miles a day. Depending on your body mass and fitness level, you’re looking at a likely burn of 400-500 calories, too.

And if you’re really into using the activity tracker to boost your fitness, add 10,000 steps on top of what your daily average is. So if you’re averaging 5,000 steps a day, add 10,000 additional steps after that and have a goal of 15,000 steps. That way, you’re tracking not only “exercise” but your daily routine as well.

Time Active

In recent years, studies have shown that sitting and being inactive is one of the worst things for your heart and overall health.

Everyone’s active time is different. Some people work and are on their feet all day long, while others sit at a desk and only get to move around a few minutes every hour or two. And nearly all of us estimate them incorrectly--we either think we’re much more active than we are, or we misjudge just how much we’re really sitting in one place.

An activity tracker is a great way to get a real reading on what you’re really doing during your day. That movement might be walking from your office to the bathroom a few times, or it might be running a 10k. Whatever it is, those are minutes you move.

Like step tracking, it’s a good idea to use your tracker to see what your current level of activity is. After a week of using one, you might see that you’re active for 60 minutes out of the day. What this means is that out of the 24 hours, you’re actually moving around for 2 of them. Additionally, most trackers tell you down to the minute when you’re moving, so you might learn you’re up and going pretty often between 9 and 11 a.m., but you might see that you move very little between 2 and 4 p.m.

Activity trackers really help out in this arena by telling you precisely how much you’re moving. Even moving an additional 20 minutes a day ( 140-150 minutes per week) can significantly lower your risk of trouble down the line. By looking at your activity tracker and gauging your current level of fitness, you can really see what times of day you need to push yourself. 

Many trackers even come with alarms to warn you if you’ve been sitting idle longer for a certain period of time.

The takeaway here is that the more time you spend moving, the less likely you are to develop conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. And that’s always a good thing.

So whether you have a wrist-based tracker, a clip on pendant, or a smartphone app like Argus, there are definitely ways to increase your fitness using wearable technology. You’ll have a ton of data, but remember: just looking at it doesn’t do much for you. You have to think about it. By measuring your current level of activity, you can use your personal data to springboard yourself into a healthier, more fit lifestyle.

That’s what activity tracking is all about.

B.J. is a certified personal trainer from the American Fitness Institute and holds a Master’s degree in English. He is currently training for his first marathon. He’s also a geek who has lost 155 pounds. He wants to teach other geeks and nerds how to live healthy, fitness-oriented lives. You can find more of his work on his blog Geek Fitness.

Main Photo Credit: Maridav/; Second Photo Credit: VTT Studio/; Third Photo Credit: Creativa Images/; Fourth Photo Credit: Lucadp/