Fitness Trackers - Do they make us more healthy?

Late last year, I set myself a goal - I wanted to move more. Not just for my physical health, but to keep myself sane. I often found that on those days I had off, I would couch potato - hard. Then I would feel terribly restless come late afternoon and disappointed in myself that I hadn’t done something more productive. 

Fitbit logo

Fitbit logo

So, I took the dive and invested in a Fitness Tracker. My weapon of choice is a popular one, apparently: a FitBit Charge HR. I like it because it challenges me to compete against my past self. And so far, it’s working for me! (Also it’s great for letting my know someone is ringing me when my phone is on vibrate and hiding in the bottom of my handbag, but that’s another story.) 

How fitbit make you a champion of running around the house

How fitbit make you a champion of running around the house

I was wondering about how well fitness trackers work for the masses, so I had a bit of a poke around in the medical literature and I have to say I’m pretty shocked at how little research there is about fitness trackers and their health benefits. 

 

The first study I found looked at the use of fitness trackers in three age groups: young (23-34 years), middle-aged (35-49 years) and older adults (50-67 years). Despite activity levels dropping across the board in the winter, it was the baby boomers who increased their activity the most. They consistently logged a greater increase in steps than the two other groups over 12 months. 

Struggling to find anything else, I turned my attention to my trusty friend, Google. I read a little about the history of ‘wearable devices’ and health, that really started with the good old pedometer. A systematic review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 suggested that just wearing the pedometer meant that users increased their steps per day, and that those who had a step goal to meet were more likely to take more steps. The study also suggested that those who used the pedometers decreased their BMI (lost weight), reduced their blood pressure and better controlled their blood sugar levels. 

Ron Burgundy questioning whether you actually move if your Fitbit doesn't track it

Ron Burgundy questioning whether you actually move if your Fitbit doesn't track it

From what is (and isn’t) said in the literature, I think that fitness tracking is more aligned with the “you get out what you put in” ethos rather than singing the praises of a tech-revolution. Sure, advances in technology mean those numbers are more accessible, the data is pretty in brilliantly designed apps and social media connects users to each other creating a social experience. Unless you are self-motivated they’ll collect dust in a drawer just like any other fitness-fad. 

 

I know that I use my fitness tracker as a tool to measure my activity, and that awareness of how much (or how little) I move means I am more motivated to change those little numbers on my wrist. There is a lot of research out there that shows an increase in activity directly impacts health indicators. Fitness trackers are a great way to measure and effectively set goals for daily activity, if you’re so inclined, but they’re what you make them. 

No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone on the couch

No matter how slow you go, you're still lapping everyone on the couch

 

Increased activity in Baby Boomers 

https://apha.confex.com/apha/142am/webprogram/Paper314928.html

 

Pedometer Study

http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=209526

 

Isabelle is one of the team of musculoskeletal physiotherapists at The Movement Team and has worked in private practice around Brisbane before finding her way to Samford. Isabelle is a qualified pilates instructor and also has a huge passion for dance and all things movement.