It’s hard to deny the growing trend of wearable activity and fitness trackers.If you pay close attention to the wrist of the person next to you, chances are you’ll find they’re not just keeping track of the time, but their daily step count, energy expenditure, heart rate or sleep quality.
I delved into the wearable fitness tracker craze a couple of years ago. But after a week I decided tracking my sleep, steps and everything in between wasn’t for me 24/7. Obviously being a mother of two young children meant my sleeping statistics were never going to break records, so I decided I didn’t want to be reminded of this every day. So now my device is strictly for exercise and running - I like to track my pace, distance and heart rate. When I’m trail running I love being able to track my elevation and I get great satisfaction seeing my runs mapped out afterwards.
But my experience differs greatly to many friends who wear their devices all day, every day (and swear by them). So what do the experts think?
There’s been lots of research into these devices, with mixed results. One study was undertaken by Rikke Duus of University College London and Mike Cooray of Ashridge Business School. They followed 200 women who wore a fitness-tracking device and results revealed it had a profound impact on women’s decision making when it came to exercise, diet and how to get from A to B.
The research found:
- The majority of participants took a longer route when walking to increase their daily step count (91%) and increased the amount of exercise they did (95%).
- More than half of the women increased their walking speed to reach personal targets (56%).
- Many women changed their eating habits to include more healthy food, smaller portion sizes and bought less takeaway (76%).
This all sounds pretty positive to me. However the research also pointed out a few downsides, including:
- Nearly half of the women in the study said they felt ‘naked’ without their device (45%) and also said if they weren’t wearing the device they felt that any activities they did were ‘wasted’ (43%).
- Some women said they felt less motivated to exercise if they weren’t using the tracker (22%).
- A whopping 79% said they felt under pressure to reach their daily targets when they were wearing the device and 59% said their daily routines were controlled by it.
- And finally the guilt… around a third of the women felt the activity tracker was an enemy and made them feel guilty (30%).
So do the positives outweigh the negatives? Movement Therapist Vanessa Leone says some of her clients use devices to track their activity levels – and that’s a good thing because many of them are desk bound all day.
“Whether they set timers to make sure they are standing up regularly, walk those 10,000 steps or both, wearable trackers are really helpful in keeping [people] accountable and working towards their goals.”
“We also use it to measure intensity during their sessions and making sure not only are they working hard enough during their sessions, but are they getting adequate rest. Are our intervals too short or too long? These technologies help me get the most out of our sessions”.
But what about simply using a smartphone to monitor your daily activity I hear you ask? Most people agree that smartphone apps aren’t quite there yet and Vanessa agrees.
“I develop lots of weird and wonderful exercises, stretches, and workouts for my clients to keep things fresh and I haven't found one [a smartphone app] that can give an accurate representation of the exercise I want them to perform, or the calorie expenditure they can expect from it. I think [smartphone technology] is still a little behind,” she says.
So should you bite the bullet and invest in a fitness tracker? It depends. If you think you’ll benefit from the technology, go for it. But Vanessa has some final words of wisdom.
“Stick to your values and use what feels right. Talk to health professionals if you’re unsure and always get a second opinion before buying something expensive!”.
You can read more about this research on Rikke Duus’ blog.