There aren’t many occasions that I’ll deem important enough to remove my fitness tracker. In fact, in the past few years, it’s only been the weddings of my sister-in-law and my best friend that forced me to leave my Apple Watch 7 (or my Garmin Fenix 7) on charge, and not on my wrist. I am, well and truly, obsessed with tracking all elements of my health — from my steps to the amount of time I’ve spent standing or sleeping, but recently, I’ve started to wonder if this is a good thing.
While tracking your health and closing your rings is undoubtedly motivational, it can also be addictive. In recent years, new studies have looked into the negative effects of health tracking technology, in particular on developing unhealthy addictions to the trackers on our wrists.
As a fitness editor, I’m mindful of how much I move, what I eat, and how hard I train — be that in the gym, or for my next marathon. That said, I also have a history of disordered eating and a personality you’d definitely describe as addictive. I have been known to stand up and pace around the living room in the evening if my standing goal on my Apple Watch is low. When recovering from anorexia ten years ago, I was only permitted to wear a tracker when exercising, as doctors deemed the 24/7 tracking unhealthy. Yet in the years since, I’ve learned how important it is to have balance in life, and until recently, I’ve not stopped to think about the effect my tracker has on my mental wellbeing.
However, during a recent weekend away, I quickly noticed how fidgety I got after a long car journey — not because I’d spent four hours sitting in a car, but because of the minimal progress I’d made on my rings. My normal routine is pretty full on — most days I’ve walked for an hour with the dog and done a run or strength session before sitting down at my desk, but with the dog on his own mini-break, I hadn’t done any exercise and it was midday. But isn’t this the point of a vacation — to relax, to have a break from the routine, and to spend time with your loved ones?
In a rare feat of self-awareness, I took my Apple Watch off for the long weekend. Here’s what I learned.
I took a vacation from my fitness tracker — here’s what I learned
My activity levels didn’t decrease
I’m very aware that for some users, closing your rings, or reaching a certain step goal is an incredibly important motivational tool. Yet without the watch on, I still walked a good few miles, cycled around the coast for a couple of hours, went swimming in the hotel pool, and played a few games of tennis. I’ve never been someone who can sit and do nothing (don’t get my colleagues started on the list of films I’ve never seen), and I found that not wearing the watch didn’t make me exercise less; I was just less aware of the metrics of those activities.
I realized my body needed a rest
One of my issues with the Apple Watch compared to the best Garmin watches and the best Fitbits on the market is that it doesn’t account for recovery. The day after my last marathon, my Apple Watch still expected me to move for an hour to close my rings.
On this vacation, I hadn’t run a marathon the day before, but I had just finished a pretty hectic week of work, and a heavy week of marathon training, which I’d squeezed into four days rather than seven. I realized I needed a few extra hours of sleep and a few days of very gentle exercise — something I’m not sure I’d have allowed myself to do had I been slaving away to close those rings.
I need to set some boundaries with my tech
Now I’m back at my desk and back in my running shoes, my tech is firmly back on my wrist (I track my runs using the Garmin Forerunner 955 or the Fenix 7 at the moment, and wear the Apple Watch 7 for everything else). That said, I’ve learned I need to set some boundaries with myself when it comes to my tech. I’ve not worked out what that looks like yet — whether it’s removing the watch completely at the weekends or changing the screen so my rings aren’t so prominent, but either way, I needed a vacation from my watch, and you shouldn’t be afraid of taking one too.