Monday, January 29, 2018

Are fitness trackers actually any use?

OK, I admit it - I use a fitness tracker. It is a Misfit, the cheaper cousin to a Fitbit ($30 as opposed to $200), but it does essentially the same thing. It is a bit more sophisticated than it sounds, allowing me to specify activities (e.g. squash, running, etc) based on the activities' calorie requirements, but one thing it does do - and probably the main thing - is to count steps and give me points for them.
Many people are fixated on the 10,000 steps a day target (I am pretty active, so mine is actually set to the equivalent of about 16,000 a day), but it seems that this is actually a reasonably arbitrary goal based on a single Japanese study carried out nearly 60 years ago. Back in 1960, Japanese researchers calculated that a typical Japanese man burned about 3,000 calories when he walked 10,000 steps and, as this seemed to be about the right kind of daily calorie burn to aim for, the 10,000 step goal was born. But it is really not based on very robust science and, obviously enough, one person's goal should not necessarily be the same as another person's.
It also turns out that fitness trackers may not be very useful for people who want to lose weight. Indeed, a 2-year American study, concluded in 2016, suggests that they may even impede weight loss: study volunteers who did not use fitness trackers lost over 50% more weight than those who did use the trackers. This was just one study, and tracker manufacturers insist that their products have improved significantly since then, but it does suggest that we should perhaps not put too much faith in them. For many people, they are just gimmicks and the novelty soon wears off. Also, if they find they are consistently not hitting your target, many people become discouraged and do even less than they did before. Even those who do hit their targets may react by worsening their diets as they indulge in treats in celebration.
According to some reports, sales of fitness trackers have slowed down in the last few years, suggesting that they may be just a fad whose time is almost over. Other reports, though, show continued robust year-on-year growth. So, the jury is still out, in terms of the market at least.
I have to say, I still enjoy mine, and I do still find myself doing a little bit extra in order to achieve a daily goal, although as often as not I am way over my target. I wonder, though, whether they are actually more useful for fit people than for the unfit people they purport to be helping?

No comments: