Why it could be a good idea to ditch your running watch

 Studies show that obsessively tracking fitness metrics can lead to negative outcomes and unhealthy mindsets.
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(CNN)Running shoes, keys, watch -- I used to always grab the essentials before heading out for a jog.

When I first began running in high school on the track team, it made sense to carefully clock every mile and push myself to race for personal bests. But as I transitioned from running for sport to running for recreation as an adult, I found that tracking my workouts became more harmful than helpful.
Casual runs turned into a competition with myself, usually ending in frustration if I failed to keep up with the pace dictated by my watch.
    Ditching your running watch, especially if it's a smartwatch or fitness tracker, could actually improve your workout -- or at least your stress levels and enjoyment of running, some research suggests.
      It wasn't until my watch battery died several years ago that I first experienced the sense of calm that comes with running for the pure joy of it. I never replaced the watch battery, and experts say that might not be a bad thing for my fitness goals.

      Data-free exercise

      The idea of unplugged running is gaining steam in the fitness community, as recent studies show that obsessively tracking fitness metrics can lead to negative mindsets and outcomes.
        "There is certainly evidence out there that people are becoming obsessed by it -- people who used to have an interest in their sport and got enjoyment out of the sport, but now that's switching to the data," said Eoin Whelan, a senior lecturer in business information systems at the National University of Ireland Galway. His research explores the psychology behind engagement with social media and fitness tracking apps. (That includes a 2020 study, conducted with Trevor Clohessy of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.)
        "People are getting more enjoyment out of gathering the data and analyzing that and sharing it with other people," Whelan told CNN, adding that there is a big element of social comparison for those who use fitness tracking apps. "People will compare themselves to people who are better than them, who are running faster or running longer. And ultimately we know that makes them feel bad."
        Whelan also noted that people who are very reliant on smartwatches, fitness trackers or fitness apps are more likely to skip their workout if the batteries on their tracking device are dead.
        "It's like we can't interpret our own body signals. We are becoming very dependent on the technology to actually do that for us," Whelan said. "Some of the athletes that I coach, you can ask them a simple question like 'how did you sleep last night?' and they can't answer unless they look at the data."
        It's not all negative, though. Whelan's research also shows there are many upsides to using fitness trackers. In fact, some runners gain motivation by comparing themselves to others, or they build online communities that help them reach their goals. So ditching the data might not be best for everyone.
        "We know from other studies that when people use these technologies, they're more motivated to exercise, and they tend to exercise for longer and at a higher intensity as well, which is all good for their physical well-being," said Whelan, adding that the concern is when the use of fitness tracking shifts from motivational to obsessive. "We also know that not everybody gets those benefits."

        An extension of screen time

        In general, research shows that too much screen time, which could include looking at your smartwatch or fitness apps, has negative impacts on mental health. Excessive smartphone use is also linked to worse headaches,