Do fitness trackers really work?

Do fitness trackers really work?

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The must-have accessory of the moment, fitness trackers are everywhere, but are they all they are cracked up to be? Personal trainer Andrew Cate reveals the pitfalls of this popular health technology and how to get the most out of them.

The benefits of fitness trackers

Health technology (think fitness trackers and apps) has become the must have fitness accessory of the modern age.

Fitness trackers are said to boost motivation by measuring your performance, giving feedback and a benchmark for future workouts.

But they can't exercise for you, and studies have questioned their ability to make a noticeable difference to your results.

Let's take a closer look at their potential flaws, and what you can do to make the most of your fitness tracker.

Problem - People use their fitness trackers inconsistently

A study published by the Association for Computer Machinery found that many people lapse or abandon tracking tools, and that tracking goals are often left unmet. People may lapse for a variety of reasons, including difficulty remembering to keep their devices charged, or forgetting to wear them. This can lead to incomplete records, which in turn leads people to abandon the habit.

Solution - Make a habit out of charging your tracking device at the same time, on the same days of the week

Tie this into other charging habits, like at the same time you charge your phone. That way, it will always be ready when you are.

If you’re simply forgetting to wear it, set yourself a weekly workout challenge based on the measurements on your device, such as how many kilojoules can you burn in an hour, or how long it takes you to complete 5000 steps. That way, it will be impossible to complete your workout without it.

Problem - People lose interest in tracking

Study subjects from the same research mentioned above who were classified as short-term users of a fitbit claimed they lost interest within a month or two. They were more likely to have been gifted their fitbit from friends or significant others, or from corporate wellness programs.

Solution - Don't feel guilty about losing interest in your fitness tracker

It won't hurt to take a break from it every now and again. It's only one of many fitness different training tools.

Focus on other measures of success instead, such as distance, time or heart rate. A break might encourage you to return to the tracking device again in the future.

You may benefit from joining an online community of other tracking users that allows you to share and compare data. This may help to maintain your enthusiasm.
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Problem - Trackers are inaccurate

There are often concerns that the accuracy of the information you obtain from fitness trackers is poor, especially if you can't make personalised adjustments for weight or stride length.

Even the manufacturers themselves acknowledge that variations in user, terrain, and activity conditions can in-fluence the accuracy of measurement.

Solution - It seems you can rely on your device for accuracy

Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reviewed 22 studies examining the accuracy of digital fitness trackers.

They found the validity and reliability of data from popular wearable technology such as the Fitbit and Jaw-bone was generally high. Any inaccuracies tended to underestimate rather than over estimate activity, with the most notable problems occuring at slow walking speeds.

Epstein DA et al. Reconsidering the device in the drawer: lapses as a design opportunity in personal informatics. ACM. 2016. 829-84
Evenson et al. Systematic review of the validity and reliability of consumer-wearable activity trackers. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2015. 12:159 DOI 10.1186/s12966-015-0314-1