In addition to encouraging exercise and weight loss, fitness trackers may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes and other health conditions, a new study finds. Photo by A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock.com
Your fitness tracker, pedometer or smartwatch can motivate you to exercise more and lose weight, say Australian researchers.
In a large research study, investigators found that tracking your activity could inspire you to walk up to 40 minutes longer a day (about 1,800 more steps). And those extra steps could result in a loss of more than two pounds in five months.
“There can be a lot of skepticism in the mainstream media about wearable activity trackers, whether they make a difference and whether they even have negative effects, such as: B. People feel guilty,” said lead researcher Carol Maher. She is Professor of Population and Digital Health at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
“Our review found no evidence of adverse effects from wearable activity trackers,” Maher said.
The devices are big business: Between 2014 and 2020, the number of trackers sold worldwide increased by almost 1,500%. Almost $3 billion was spent on these products in 2020 alone.
In the new study, which Maher said was not paid for by any fitness equipment manufacturer, her team found that trackers have a significant impact on how much people exercise and a smaller benefit for fitness and weight loss.
“There were also clear patterns for changing other physiological outcomes like blood pressure and cholesterol,” she said. “The magnitude of the benefits was sufficient to conclude that they are clinically meaningful.”
To determine the value of fitness trackers, Maher’s team reviewed nearly 400 published studies involving about 164,000 people.
The studies showed that fitness trackers not only encourage exercise and weight loss, but can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.
“Wearables are an inexpensive, convenient tool to increase your daily activity and achieve easy weight loss,” Maher said.
While the reported 2-pound weight loss may seem insignificant, she said it’s important to remember that these weren’t studies of weight loss, but ones that focused on physical activity.
“A weight loss of 2 pounds over three to six months, which was the typical duration of the studies included in the review, makes sense from a population health perspective and offsets about two to three years of weight gain that we typically see in the general population,” said Mower.
David Conroy, a professor of kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, reviewed the results.
He said the benefits found in this study were not only due to fitness trackers, but also to behavioral changes.
“This means the impact is likely overestimating the impact wearable activity trackers are having on behavior and health outcomes per se,” Conroy said. He added that the study says nothing about how long it takes to achieve the benefits the researchers found, or how long they last.
“Ideally, wearable activity trackers can be transitional tools that people use to facilitate a permanent lifestyle change that doesn’t require a long-term commitment to wear the devices,” he said. “At this point, we know little about the timing or duration of the effects.”
Conroy said it’s not clear how tracking devices help users get beneficial results, but he offered some theories.
Trackers can provide feedback to help people monitor their progress towards activity goals and can remind wearers to do so. Many have companion mobile apps that integrate a variety of behavior change techniques. These techniques can also help encourage behavior change, Conroy said.
“Wearable activity trackers can be useful to encourage physical activity, but we should be realistic about our expectations of these devices,” he suggested. “Trackers are just tools — they can be an important part of an evidence-based behavior change program, but they won’t do the hard work of changing behavior for an individual.”
Increasing your physical activity still requires a desire to be active, meaningful incentives to be active, and the effort to turn your best intentions into action, Conroy said.
“Ideally, trackers can help consumers create a lifestyle that makes it easier to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives, but that won’t happen through a tracker alone,” he said. “Sustainable increases in physical activity are more likely when the tracker is part of a thoughtful, evidence-based approach rooted in behavioral science.”
The study was published online Tuesday in The Lancet Digital Health journal.
For more on fitness, see the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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