How do fitness trackers make your life better?
While there is no definitive proof that fitness trackers improve health and encourage activity, there is at least one promising study that demonstrates a link between wearing a fitness tracker and being more active. Although more research is needed, we think that wearing a fitness tracker can't hurt, and in fact, can help improve the quality of your life in several concrete ways. Here's why.
Keep you motivated
In an increasingly sedentary society, it's more important than ever for people to get off their butts and move around more. Fitness trackers are one way of giving you that extra push to get out of your seat. As Lisa Cadmus-Betram, author of a study on fitness trackers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison puts it: "Fitness trackers combine key ingredients for motivating people to reach their health goals — self-monitoring, setting goals, getting frequent feedback on progress, revising goals if needed, social support, and developing a sense of self-efficacy."
Setting realistic and achievable goals is a key factor in motivation, as related by Cadmus-Bertram above, and is one area where fitness trackers actually help quite a bit. However, fitness trackers can't tell you if a goal is achievable; ultimately, only trial and error can do that. What fitness trackers can do is give you the data upon which you can revise your goals, if necessary.
Additionally, many fitness trackers, including the Fitbit Alta, now come with a little alarm that goes off every hour where your activity falls below a certain threshold to remind you to get up and walk around. It's great for those busy days when you feel like you're glued to your desk.
As Dr. Sanjay Gupta writes on Oprah.com, "If you're going to monitor only one thing, this (sleep) is it. Without adequate rest, your whole body suffers."
Dr. Gupta has a very good reason for pointing out how important the sleep tracking feature of fitness trackers is. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep is vital to good health. Chronic sleep deficiency is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
Most fitness trackers have built-in sleep monitors, which measure how long you sleep and gauge the quality of your rest by how much you move around while you sleep. While Dr. Gupta is careful to note that fitness trackers can overestimate the quality of your sleep, he does say that if you keep track of those restless nights, you may be able to discern a cause for them and address it accordingly. Wear your fitness tracker to bed, and perhaps your nights will be more restful and you'll feel better in the morning.
Easier calorie counting
The math doesn't lie: eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight. Eat less, and you lose weight. This is not rocket science, yet it can get pretty inconvenient for busy people to do. Fitness trackers and their associated apps make calorie counting more convenient than ever — whether you need to lose five pounds, or 50, they can help you manage your food intake quickly and easily.
Most fitness tracker apps have nutritional information databases which include most foods — even that Big Mac you had at lunch. So, if you're counting your calories, no longer do you need to carry that calorie book with you wherever you go. It's now all on your phone, which you're never without, right?
Another benefit is that if you set a daily calorie goal, you can see at a glance how many calories you have left in your budget. You can also see how many calories you've burned.
Be more active
While there isn't enough data yet to determine whether wearing a fitness tracker, as opposed to a simple pedometer, is any better at getting people to be more active, one study does show some promising results.
Lisa Cadmus-Betram and her team at the Unversity of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study of 51 overweight and sedentary post-menopausal women to see whether using a fitness tracker as opposed to a regular pedometer made a difference in their activity levels.
Cadmus-Bertram and her colleagues gave half the women a Fitbit while the other half got a pedometer. The women who received the Fitbit increased their physical activity by as much as one hour per week, while there was an insignificant increase for those using just the pedometer. While the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in September of 2015, doesn't address whether or not the women kept using their Fitbits, or whether their activity kept increasing, it does show a promising correlation between fitness tracker use and increased physical activity.
Get better at a sport
Even if you're already in fit shape, you can still benefit from using a fitness tracker. Many models are able to track metrics related to specific sports such as running and cycling, so you can see how well you're performing and track your progress over time.
For instance, fitness trackers such as the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive HR have specific running and cycling programs built-in, so that you can track metrics specific to that activity, such as speed, number of laps, and revolutions per minute.
The bottom line
While it is true that there is no hard evidence yet proving fitness trackers actually do help you get leaner and healthier, at least one study has found a correlation between increased activity and fitness tracker use — and there are other studies ongoing. Other potential benefits include sleeping better, losing weight, and improved sports performance.
We've told you why we think fitness trackers make your life better, but what do you think? Sound off in the comments below.