Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising.
Wearable and portable fitness trackers are certainly helping serious elite athletes to push themselves to the limit.
But what about the rest of us? Does knowing how many calories we’re burning, how fast our hearts are beating, and how many steps we’ve taken really motivate us to do more exercise and eat more healthily?
In short, do they really work?
“They’ve made us all aware of how we treat our bodies, and they have even helped people diagnose things like diabetes and obesity,” says Collette Johnson, head of marketing at design technology consultancy Plextek.
Last year the University of Pittsburgh concluded that fitness trackers were “ineffective at sustaining weight loss”.
The two-year study, conducted by the university’s School of Education Department of Health and Physical Activity, involved 500 overweight volunteers. All were asked to diet and engage in more exercise, but only half were given a fitness tracker to help them.
The study found that the group wearing trackers lost 8lb (3.6kg), but the ones who didn’t lost 13lb (5.9kg).
“Trackers are a reliable measurement of our activity, but we can’t rely on them completely,” says Andrew Lane, professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton.
“We can’t expect just to buy one and that’s it – some of the responsibility sits with us too. We still have to get off that sofa and complete those 10,000 steps a day.”
Prof Lane believes that, if used inappropriately, they may even start to have a negative psychological effect.
“What if we start consistently not reaching goals set for us by them? Ultimately it would lead to us feeling demotivated – the opposite effect they are supposed to have.”
Leading wearable fitness tracker maker Fitbit reported 2015 revenues of £1.3 billion, while researcher CSS Insight forecasts that the market will be worth £16 billion by 2020.
And the fact that smartwatch sales declined sharply last year, according to market analysts IDC, has led many makers to reposition them primarily as fitness tracking devices – another indication of where the business potential lies.
Such concerns haven’t stopped the market from booming – yet. Please see our next blog post for more information