Millions of people worldwide believe that fitness trackers, pedometers and smart watches motivate them to exercise more and lose weight, according to a new study by Australian researchers.
The findings of the research were published in Lancet Digital Health.
Wearable activity trackers encourage us to walk up to 40 minutes more each
day (approximately 1800 more steps), resulting in an average 1kg weight loss
over five months.
Researchers from the University of South Australia reviewed almost +00 studies
involving 164,000 people across the world using wearable activity trackers
(WATs) to monitor their physical activity.
Their findings underline the value of low-cost interventions to tackle a growing
epidemic of health conditions partially caused by a lack of exercise, including
cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and mental illness.
Lead researcher UniSA PhD candidate Ty Ferguson says despite the popularity
of WATs, there is widespread scepticism about their effectiveness, accuracy,
and whether they fuel obsessive behaviours and eating disorders, but the
evidence is overwhelmingly positive.
“The overall results from the studies we reviewed show that wearable activity
trackers are effective across all age groups and for long periods of time,” Ferguson says.
“They encourage people to exercise on a regular basis, to make it part of their routine and to set goals to lose weight.”
The 1kg weight loss may not seem a lot, but researchers say from a public
health perspective it is meaningful.
“Bearing in mind these were not weight loss studies, but lifestyle physical
activity studies, so we wouldn’t expect dramatic weight loss,” says UniSA
Professor Carol Maher, co-author of the review.
“The average person gains about 0.5 kg a year in weight creep so losing 1kg
over five months is significant, especially when you consider that two-thirds of
Australians are overweight or obese.”
Between 2014 and 2020, the number of wearable activity trackers shipped
worldwide increased by almost 1500 per cent, translating to a global spending of
$2.8 billion in 2020.
Apart from the extra physical activity and weight loss attributed to WATs, there
is some evidence that fitness trackers also help lower blood pressure and
cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.
“The other reported benefit is that WATs improved depression and anxiety
through an increase in physical activity,” Ferguson says.