- According to recent studies, wearable activity trackers help a variety of people move more and lose a modest amount of weight by encouraging positive health changes.
- The ability to lose weight is frequently genetic, so experts argue that while these devices do help improve health, there is more to weight loss than “calories in, calories out.”
- Wearable activity trackers should be used with caution because, according to researchers, they may also encourage unhealthy behaviors in people with anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
According to recent research, wearable activity trackers (WATs) like Fitbit or Garmin do in fact motivate users to increase their physical activity.
The comprehensive review, which University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers recently published in The Lancet Trusted Source, demonstrates that WATs “consistently outperformed controls for physical activity outcomes.”
Researchers claim that the global market for WATs has expanded “tremendously,” with an increase of over 1,000% in the number of activity trackers shipped globally between 2014 and 2020.
Activity monitors encourage healthy lifestyle changes
Researchers from UniSA examined nearly 400 studies with 164,000 participants from across the globe that used WATs to track their levels of physical activity.
The studies involved individuals of any age who used an activity tracker to promote increased exercise, such as a pedometer, accelerometer, activity monitor, or a step-counting smartphone application.
Their findings suggest that WATs can lead to an increase in daily walking of up to 40 minutes, or roughly 1,800 additional steps, and a weight loss of 1 kg (2.2 lbs) on average over the course of five months.
What was a pleasant surprise, according to Ferguson, was how beneficial they were for such a diverse group of people, including people of all ages, healthy people, and those suffering from a variety of chronic conditions.
He continued by saying that the fact that activity trackers cause a change for the better in physical activity was not surprising. They provide external feedback, which is known to be helpful for inspiring healthy lifestyle changes, according to Ferguson.
How reliable are activity monitors?
“Dietary Rebuild” author and N.E.W Program founder Dr. Brian Quebbemann characterized WATs as “moderately accurate.”
He said they do help when asked if these gadgets are gimmicks or fads.
They most certainly are not gimmicks, according to Quebbemann. They aid in keeping track of patterns, regularity, rough intensity levels, and effort.
In addition, Quebbemann said that WATs aid in tracking fitness. He said, “You can compare the intensity of your workouts over time and the changes in your cardiovascular fitness.”
“They are good at comparing the intensity of your exercise; meaning they can tell you that your run today was more intense than your run yesterday. But they are less accurate at comparing one exercise, push-ups for example, to another, say bicycling.”
You cannot trick a Fitbit
Quebbemann said, “You can’t fool your Fitbit” about people who don’t work out as much as they say they do but claim to be in good shape.
“Say you’re running 5 times per week for 3 months, and you get sick and skip a month. When you begin running again, an exercise tracker will show you that your heart rate gets higher at a much slower pace than before, that you don’t run as far nor as fast as before, and that your total calorie burn is much less,” Quebbemann explained.
Success at losing weight is often in your genes
Quebbemann says that for many people, just being more active isn’t enough to help them lose weight, and that “calories in, calories out” is only part of the equation.
“Rate of calorie burn at rest, change in calorie burn with exercise, [the] propensity to store excess calories, your intestinal bacteria balance, your hormone balance, and more, all affect your weight,” he said.
Quebbemann also said that medical science is showing that a person’s weight is affected just as much by their genes and environment as by how much they work out.
“This doesn’t mean exercise doesn’t contribute to weight loss, or that being sedentary doesn’t cause weight gain,” he said. “What it does mean is your ability to lose weight with exercise is determined to a large extent by your genes.”
Wearable trackers could encourage bad habits
Jeff Leininger, NP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California, said that people with moderate or severe anxiety disorders may want to use WATs with care.
He said that neuroscience shows that people with active eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder have a “dysregulated serotonin system” (OCD).
“This dysregulation combined with increased psychosocial stressors cause individuals to fixate on thoughts and behaviors,” he added.
Leininger said that his “hunch” is that someone with OCD who wears a fitness tracker may become more and more obsessed with their worries and fears about fitness.
“Perhaps unfounded worries [are] steeped in a core belief that they aren’t good enough and therefore they don’t know how to exercise correctly,” he said, adding that this could make anxiety worse and lead to unhealthy behaviors.
Physical activity is a big part of how healthy you are
Dr. Jessica Folek, who is in charge of bariatric surgery at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York, said that research on WATs is very important as healthcare moves toward focusing more on ways to prevent diseases.
She pointed out that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), living a sedentary life raises the risk of death from all causes, including:
“A wearable device tracker in combination with lifestyle interventions has great potential for health promotion,” Folek said.
“Studies demonstrating that these trackers overall have a positive effect on increasing physical activity show the benefit these can have in reducing sedentary behavior and as a tool to help positively impact public health.”
Wearable trackers are often praised for their ability to track physical activity and encourage people to move. Now, new research suggests that these devices may also help people move more every day.
Activity trackers that you wear may help you lose weight, but it’s important to remember that not everyone loses weight the same way. Age, sex, height, and eating habits can all affect a person’s ability to lose weight.
Wearable activity trackers could help you reach your goals, whether they are to lose weight or just to stay active and healthy.