Will a fitness tracker change your life?

By Alvin Soon - on 31 Jan 2017, 11:31am

Image source: Fitbit

It’s nearly the end of the first month of the new year, and I’ve been seeing more people hit the gym as well as wear new fitness trackers. Do these things really motivate you to work out more and change your life, or are they just shiny little gadgets with the half-life of most New Year resolutions?

I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker semi-regularly for about three years, starting with a Jawbone and now with an Apple Watch. If there’s one thing I’ve learned with using them, it’s that knowing your stats is not the same as making them happen.

There are some benefits to wearing a fitness tracker, if you’re willing to take action. The most important thing a tracker does is give you a reality check: You might think you take enough steps during the day, but do you really? A tracker will let you know.

Depending on its features, a tracker can also help to nudge you just enough. My Apple Watch reminds me to get up and walk around every hour, so that I don’t remain sedentary for too long.

There’s also the satisfaction from hitting my daily steps for the day, or the alarm from falling drastically short of it. But again, the nudges and negative stats mean nothing on those lazy days when I don’t do anything to change them.

What does science say?

Image source: Fitbit

My own experiences with fitness trackers seem to coincide with a study published last year in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Researchers tracked some 800 Singaporeans with full-time jobs for an entire year, some wore Fitbits, some didn’t, some Fitbit wearers were given cash or charity donations, some weren’t.

On average, the people who wore Fitbits increased their physical activity by a modest 16 minutes. Those offered charity donations didn’t exercise more than those who weren’t, and the ones who were offered cash exercised slightly more, but again, not enough to make a significant difference. After a year, just 10 percent of the group continued wearing their Fitbits.

To be fair, 16 minutes more than usual isn’t a non-zero gain. But the researchers mentioned that just 16 minutes more on average wasn’t enough to significantly impact weight or blood pressure.

By all means, try a fitness tracker out. You might find the daily reminders and stats encouraging enough to make you move around more. Just remember that it won’t change your life; only discipline and action will, and you don’t need a gadget for those.

Read next: How my colleague used tech and some common sense to lose 15kg in 6 months.

Alvin Soon

Alvin Soon / Former Deputy Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

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