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The Skinny on Wearable Fitness Trackers: Do They Actually Work?

July 30, 2019

It’s the hottest trend in fitness … the most ubiquitous accessory to adorn wrists since the invention of the watch. But do wearable fitness trackers really work? Do they motivate you to exercise more?

That was the question researchers at Atlantic Sports Health sought to answer in a study examining the effectiveness of wearable activity devices. The researchers recruited 60 relatively healthy male and female Atlantic Health System employees who held office or “desk” jobs to participate in the 14-week study.

They randomly placed participants in one of three groups. For the first 30 days, Group A participants wore a device with knowledge of its function, and with access to the data measured by the device (such as steps taken).

Group B had knowledge of the device’s function, but without access to the data through the corresponding digital app. From days 31 to 60, Groups A and B crossed over to either gain access to the device’s data (Group B) or lose it (Group A). The third group, Group C, had knowledge of the device’s function but had no access to the data for the duration of the study. All groups were told to maintain their current diet and did not receive specific guidance on exercise.

The results showed that those who had access to information about their progress remained more active than those who only wore the device. This was most evident with Group A, which averaged the most active hours per day throughout the study but saw a decrease in active hours and steps taken when they lost access to that information.

“This study, along with others, shows that while wearable fitness trackers can be instrumental in achieving fitness goals, it’s the information they convey – not the device alone – that keeps people motivated and on track,” says Damion A. Martins, MD, MS, medical director of sports medicine and sports physical therapy for Atlantic Health System, who led the study.

While research is still needed to determine how long the motivational effects of fitness tracking devices last, Dr. Martins is encouraged to see that they can play a role in helping people start or maintain an exercise program.

“If you’re intrinsically motivated to exercise on a regular basis, a wearable device may not be necessary,” says Dr. Martins. “However, if you’re someone who needs a bit more motivation to keep moving, a fitness tracker might literally be steps in the right direction.”

ATLANTIC MEDICAL GROUP
Dr. Martins is part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty network of health care providers. For more information, visit atlanticmedicalgroup.org. He can be reached at 973-971-6898.