You weighed whether you wanted to wear a fitness tracker on your wrist or arm, you chose a color, you ordered it, you anticipated its arrival, the box arrived, and you opened it with excitement and put it on. Now what?
Out of the Gate
Try it on for size. The first week you have a tracker, don't exercise.It may seem weird, but don't jump into a new routine.
Instead, just wear the device and do what you normally do. That's how you get your baseline -- a snapshot of how much activity you typically get.
It may be less than you expect. That's OK. Knowing your baseline is your first step toward improving it.
Hold the reins. Now that you know your starting point, it's time to get moving. Set a reasonable goal. Your fitness device might have a default goal -- often 10,000 steps a day.
If your baseline is 3,500 steps a day, that goal is too high. Instead, add 200 to 300 steps a day to increase your week's total by 2,000. That's an increase of about a mile a week. Keep building up that way until you get to 10,000.
When you look at calories burned, a reasonable goal is to increase by 250 calories a day. You can get that from 30 minutes of mild to moderate exercise. Or you could burn that amount doing some extra moving during the day.
Get the message. Create a positive feedback loop. Your tracker gives you feedback on your activity constantly -- either on the device or on your phone or computer.
Pay attention to how the numbers make you feel. On a day when you walk 1,000 more steps than usual, you may notice you feel great. You'll want that good feeling again the next day. That's how fitness trackers reinforce good behavior and drive you forward.
Plus, your device will motivate you with online points and fun badges when you hit certain step or distance milestones or other achievements. Relish the moment!
Certain devices let you set goals. If you accept push notifications, you can also get notes to tell you how close you are to the target you've set. Talk about motivation!
Put It in High Gear
Be ready to go. Transform wasted time into steps. Once you're aware of your steps, the most boring parts of your day become opportunities. On hold with customer service? Pace your house. Waiting for your kid to get out of violin class? Walk instead of sitting.
Write it down. Fitness trackers aren't just about physical activity. Some show how your exercise is connected to everything else -- like your diet and sleep.
If your goal is to lose weight, using a food tracker app will help you succeed.
Tracking your food lets you compare how many calories you're eating each day compared to how many you're burning.
Remember, to lose 1 pound a week, you need to create a 500-calorie deficit each day. The best way to do this is by eating a little less and moving a little more.
Let's say your goal is to burn 250 more calories a day. If you also set a goal to eat 250 fewer calories a day, you've done the work to drop about a pound a week.
That's an average. Your body doesn't always react like clockwork. You can follow these guidelines and gain a pound one week, or stay the same, or drop 2 pounds! Stick with it and your losses will average out over time.
Dive deep into your data. Go beyond the obvious numbers. Check out some of the nifty charts and graphs on your device's app or site.
For instance, some apps show your activity throughout the day, revealing times when you’re very inactive. If you’re usually watching TV at that time, use that as motivation to work in a little activity while you watch your favorite show.
Make fitness a game. Mark Krynsky, author of the Lifestream Blog, loves sharing data on the web site with friends who have the same devices. With some sites, you see a weekly ranking of who's ahead. The more friends you have there, the more fun it is to compete.
"If I see that I'm only 1,000 steps behind one of my friends, that's incentive to get up and take a walk around the block before bed," Krynsky says.
Turn friends into coaches. Sharing data has another effect. When you stop exercising, people notice. "Friends will check in and say, 'Why haven't you been getting steps?'" Krynsky says. "'Are you sick?'"
If you have the nerve, share your data on Facebook and Twitter. "Putting yourself out there for the whole world to see is a hell of a motivator," he says.
Connect the Dots
Miriam Costello has used a fitness tracker for about a year and a half and says it has changed her life. She saw a clear connection between exercise and food. "I noticed on weeks when I hit 14,000 steps a day, I always lost weight regardless of what I ate," she says.
So she upped her step target. "It's a lot easier for me to go for an extra walk than avoid a chocolate bar."
Her device also changed how she slept. As a mother of four, she was familiar with fatigue. It took seeing an average of 5.5 hours a night on her tracker for it to click.
"Suddenly, that hour of TV before bed seemed less like downtime and more like insanity," she says. She changed her habits, and a year later, she averages more than 8 hours a night.
Krynsky also likes tracking sleep. He noticed that on days he exercised more, he slept better -- which reinforced the real benefits of exercise on his life. Sleep tracking inspired him to cut back on caffeine, too.