These days, it seems like every woman and her dog has a fitness tracker, and the market is more saturated than ever.
So, do these gadgets really work in helping you get fit, or are they just… well just a gadget?
We thought we’d dig into the research that’s been done thus far on fitness wearables, and impart a bit of knowledge to you (a potential fitness tracker user) about what that tracker is good for, and what it’s probably not going to achieve.
So, Do They Get You Fit?
When fitness trackers first hit the market and consumers were falling over themselves to buy them, there actually wasn’t that much research around about how effective they were. This meant that companies made some big claims, and lots of people got hooked on the idea.
Now, a few years down the line, more long-term studies have been done and health experts are able to actually make somewhat conclusive statements about fitness trackers, and the news isn’t all good.
A two-year study from the University of Pittsburgh suggested that fitness trackers might actually result in worse weight loss outcomes. They studied 470 overweight adults. For the first six months, the participants went on a calorie-controlled diet and exercised moderately for 100 minutes a week. Then for 18 months, half the group got trackers, and half, self-monitored. Amazingly, the self-monitored group lost double the amount of the tracker group.
In another study, a year-long one from Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School encouraged 800 people to walk 70,000 steps a week. After a year, not only had most people abandoned the devices, but there wasn’t any measurable improvement in weight or quality of life.
So does that mean they don’t work?
What Fitness Trackers Are Good For
Fitness trackers are not going to make you lose weight. They’re not a magic pill or a quick fix for weight loss or for getting into shape.
But that doesn’t mean they’re good for nothing.
Fitness trackers can be a fantastic personal motivator for both weight loss and improving overall health. Instead of thinking of them as your ‘key for weight loss’, think of them like a bathroom scale or a gym membership. They’re a motivational tool more than anything else, specifically designed to help to change your behaviour when you see how little you’re doing. The only problem is that not everyone’s brain works like that. Not everyone will be motivated by seeing how little they do. Some people will just give up on the device altogether.
So buying a fitness tracker is unlikely to rapidly or suddenly change your behaviour. It can help to make the changes happen, but it won’t drive the change itself. However, if you’re interested in challenging yourself, you’re goal oriented, and you like having the data, a fitness tracker might be perfect for you. With manageable expectations about the tracker, and a fair bit of personal motivation to get fit, a fitness tracker could help you to get on top of, and to manage, your weight loss and health goals.
What Else Should You Do?
Of course, trackers don’t function in isolation. If you’re really looking for concrete results, nutrition also has to come into play. There are numerous apps out there for counting calories, and we understand that the concept isn’t for everyone. But the simple fact is that for most people, weight gain is caused by putting in more energy than what you’re burning.
If you aren’t keen on the idea of counting calories for an extended period of time, consider doing it for just 5-7 days. This could give you a much better idea of recommended serving sizes, and also help you see how you’re slipping up and where. A simple electronic kitchen scale is a great tool if you’re planning on trying this method. Remember, we’re experts at denial, and sometimes, it’s not until we see it in front of us that we know we’ve been eating too much.