The popularity of wearable fitness trackers has grown immensely over the years as more people want to increase their physical activity and adopt a healthy lifestyle. But do they actually work? Do wearable devices like Fitbit and Apple Watch help with weight loss or improve our overall health markers?
A new study analysing research about wearable devices and the health benefits has found “little benefit” when it comes to significant weight loss, reducing blood pressure or achieving healthy cholesterol.
A wearable device designed for almost anything
There is a huge demand for wearable technology that can add value to our lives. There are smartwatches that count your calories, activity trackers in shoes that assess how you walk and the number of steps you take and there are wristbands that analyse your sleep quality. You can even find wearable gloves that can help you enhance your golf swing!
Wearable devices are technologies that use digital sensors to track information. They’re often used to motivate people to move more, increase their heart rate or assist them with a low-calorie diet. Consumers of fitness trackers and wearable smartphones are drawn to the ability for them to take control of their health and wellbeing as well as the lure of real-time feedback.
However, the recent analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine has found they may be offering less benefit than we’re led to believe.
The health benefits of a wearable fitness tracker are limited
Led by Ara Jo, a clinical assistant professor in the department of health services research, management and policy at the University of Florida, the team analysed six randomised clinical trials with a total of 1,615 people.
These studies collected specific data on health including blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. Four of the studies used the Fitbit wearable device and the other two used activity tracking apps that were integrated into the participant’s phone.
Of the six studies, only one found significant weight loss occurred in the participants who used a wearable device.
A reduction in blood pressure or cholesterol was not found in any of the studies.
One study collected blood glucose levels, which are relevant to the prevention and management of diabetes. Some participants saw a decrease in their blood glucose levels after wearing a fitness tracker, but not all.
“The weight loss findings are pretty surprising, ” Jo told TODAY. “I thought that wearable devices would definitely help to lose weight, at some point, because they make people move, but apparently not. ”
The value lies in the motivation
While a wearable fitness tracker may not be key to helping you lose weight or prevent weight gain altogether, there are still benefits.
The data collected from the tracker and the real-time prompts can motivate people to get moving or to make healthier dietary choices.
“They can motivate people to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, but that does not change people’s lifestyle to be [adequately] active,” Jo said.
The team suggest wearable fitness trackers could be valuable for people working with their GP or nutritionist to develop a personalised activity and weight loss program.
Data collected from the tracker can be used to identify a pattern, improve a diet routine or enhancing a person’s workout. These gadgets can also be used to monitor a patient’s progress as they carry out the treatment plan.
“But someone who expects to see significant effects like weight loss or clinical outcome improvements, it won’t be as useful,” Jo said.
This latest research highlights there is no quick fix when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. A Fitbit or Apple smartwatch is no substitute for hard work and patience.