Are fitness trackers worth it?
Lack of physical activity and improper diet are global killers. Poor sleep and insufficient sleep have been linked to many less than desirable health conditions. Fitness trackers were developed to assist people in the fight against these conditions. But are fitness trackers worth it?
A study published in 2017 assessing the experiences of those wearing fitness trackers found that participants reported that they had improved their physical activity (51–81%) more commonly than they had their diet (14–40%) or sleep (11–24%). (Maher, C, et al; 2017)
Does that mean that fitness trackers are worth it for improving physical activity only? Not quite. It proves that fitness trackers can help you improve your overall health but there are many questions we need to consider before deciding and ultimately, the answer to these questions must be compared to your own needs, lifestyle, and expectations. Let’s dive in.
The pros and cons of fitness trackers
- Motivation and accountability
The use of tracking, prompts and reminders all inspire motivation and accountability for your health. Reminders to interrupt periods of sedentary behaviour are especially effective. (Walker, R; 2021)
- Ease of use
The advancement of fitness tracker technologies has done away with the need to connect to a PC. You can now connect to mobile devices and apps that make on the go use a breeze, increasing accessibility and availability. (Walker, R; 2021)
- Sustained use could lead to extraordinary health results
Studies have shown that prolonged use could instil healthier habits regarding eating, exercising and sleep. There is however, evidence to suggest that many people cease to use their device after 6 months. (Walker, R; 2021)
At the time of print, some of the top-end devices in New Zealand are going for up to $500. These devices tend to double as luxury item and fashion statement, so they come at a cost. (Top Reviews; 2021)
- Battery life and technicality difficulties
In the same study published in 2017, as mentioned earlier, most users (70%) reported they had experienced functionality issues with their devices, most commonly related to battery life and technical difficulties. (Maher, C, et al; 2017)
Research has shown that commercially available fitness tracking devices are not as accurate as research-grade fitness tracking devices. This could cause you to make health decisions based on inaccurate data. (Walker, R; 2021)
What are the key features of fitness trackers?
When deciding if fitness trackers worth it, another element you may want to consider is the key features. Everyone will place different weight on different features but overall, here are some features you may want to look out for: (Kaewkannate, K; 2016)
- Monitoring heart rate
- Monitoring breathing
- Tracking calories burnt
- Watching cardio fitness levels
- Sleep tracking
- Silent alarm
Is there any scientific research linking fitness trackers with improved health?
“Studies show that consistently using a fitness tracker—a device that tracks your movement, such as a traditional pedometer or other wearable device, or a smartphone app—can increase your steps per day by more than a mile, especially if you establish a heart-smart daily goal.” (Hopkins, J; 2021)
If you’ve resolved to get more exercise, lose weight, or get more sleep then a host of fitness trackers are available to help you succeed. They will gently prod you to work toward your goal, encourage you along the way, and praise you when you get there. The gadgets record your activity, interpret the results and send you frequent messages to let you know how well you’re progressing.
How reliable is the data of fitness trackers, and what role should this data play in your fitness/training regime?
Fitness trackers are generally reliable for non-medical purposes, but it should always be kept in mind that the data you receive can be used as a guideline rather than an absolute. Their data is not as accurate as research-grade trackers and can produce data that is above or below actual amounts.
In your fitness regime, this should allow you to estimate how much exercise you need based on calories burnt vs calories digested. It’s important to remember that a fitness tracker cannot tell when your body is fatigued. As is with all exercise, when exercising with a fitness tracker, remember that your body should be your number one guide. (Cadmus, L; 2017)
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a fitness tracker motivate me?
In short, yes, it is likely. A fitness tracker has two main jobs. To monitor and then to motivate based on what it has monitored. Studies show that the majority of participants responded positively to wearing a fitness tracker for extended periods of time.
Should you be walking 10 000 steps a day?
While you should always listen to your body if it is over-fatigued, the evidence does suggest that walking 10 000 steps a day has profound health benefits. A study published in the Journal of Health Research found that walking 10 000 steps a day saw participants lose an average of 3cms around their waist, healthier blood pressure readings and healthier bone mineral density readings, among other benefits. (Wattanapisit, A; 2017)
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- Maher, C, et al; 2017. Users’ experiences of wearable activity trackers: a cross-sectional study.
- Walker, R; 2021. Advantages and Limitations of Wearable Activity
Trackers: Considerations for Patients and Clinicians. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311215268_Advantages_and_Limitations_of_Wearable_Activity_Trackers_Considerations_for_Patients_and_Clinicians
- Top Reviews; 2021. The 7 Best Smart Watches in New Zealand. https://www.topreviews.co.nz/best-smart-watches-new-zealand/
- Kaewkannate, K; 2016. A comparison of wearable fitness devices. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4877805/
- Hopkins, J; 2021. Could a fitness tracker boost your health? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/could-a-fitness-tracker-boost-your-heart-health
- Cadmus, L; 2017. Using Fitness Trackers in Clinical Research: What Nurse Practitioners Need to Know. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5464724/
- Wattanapisit, A; 2017. Evidence behind walking 10 000 steps. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317400141_Evidence_behind_10000_steps_walking