Prescribe me a tracker

Wearable electronic devices are the ‘it’ item in fitness and health. Calorie counter? Step tracker? Sleep monitor? Is there anything these wearables can’t track, measure or count for the every day fitness of an individual? The media is full of ambassadors and athletes preaching their love for these wrist gadgets. So, should we follow them?


The modern fitness tracker varies in price, with higher-end devices allowing options such as GPS route tracking, heart rate monitoring, and waterproof technology. They typically work with your smartphone, tablet or a website, enabling you to keep an eye on your progress over time with graphs and figures. The main idea is that they will hopefully spur you on to exercise more, get fitter and/or lose weight. Imagine you finished your walk and you could see the calories you burnt, or the steps you did, or even how much you pushed your heart rate. Now imagine you could build a virtual diary of this information, allowing you to compare data weekly or monthly to help motivate yourself. This is the type of useful functionality that sets fitness trackers apart.


This usage and adoption into mainstream has prompted serious research into trackers with interesting results. A recent University of Pittsburgh randomised controlled trial recently tracked 470 overweight or obese people aged 18 to 35, for 24 months. The group using the tracker lost an average of 3.5kg over two years, compared with an average 5.9kg in the self-monitored group. Their conclusion? Fitness trackers may not help weight loss. There were a lot of variables which could have influenced the result, namely that the study recruited only young adults, as well as the fact that the wearable devices were used only 6 months into the trial.


Ultimately, it shows that the basis of living a healthy lifestyle is exercising regularly combined with a balanced diet. However, plenty of people struggle with motivation. Fitness trackers can keep us accountable for missing exercise. They can remind us to keep moving at sedentary jobs. They are also personalised, taking into account our gender, age, height and weight.


They may not do the exercise for us, but they have the ability to be part of our lifestyle and general wellbeing. They are more than just fancy pedometers. They can motivate us to lose weight, reduce risk factors for health conditions, improve our cardiovascular health, and even diet and sleep better because we have the ability to track and monitor.


Research may not show the significant impact of fitness trackers in terms of objective measures such as weight loss or improving cardiac function, but its really the psychological effects that may prove beneficial, providing a permeable and persistent motivation to improve adherence to exercise and diet.