If you thought fitness trackers and smartwatches were just fashion and gadgetry for gadgets, think again.
New research from the University of South Australia, published in The Lancet, shows that fitness trackers, pedometers and smartwatches really motivate people to exercise more and lose weight.
Ty Ferguson, senior doctoral researcher at UniSA, says that despite the popularity of wearable trackers, there is widespread skepticism about their effectiveness and accuracy.
“Overall results from the studies we reviewed show that wearable activity trackers are effective in all age groups and for long periods of time,” Ferguson says.
“They encourage people to exercise regularly, make it part of their routine, and set goals for weight loss.”
The report is titled “Efficacy of wearable activity trackers in increasing physical activity and improving health: a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses”.
He says: “Physical activity outcomes were consistently improved in children, young adults, adults and the elderly, with similar effect sizes. The beneficial effects on body composition were apparent in a range of populations, including healthy adults and those with obesity.
Another US study found that middle-aged women lost an average of 17 pounds (7.7 kg) after six months of daily brisk walking for one hour a day. Walking can also help increase bone density – a study from Tufts University in Boston found that women who walked more than 7.5 miles per week had higher bone density than women who walked less than 1 mile per week.
Wearable activity trackers, such as Fitbits and Apple Watch, can encourage wearers to walk up to 40 minutes more each day, which is about 1,800 extra steps). Researchers have found that this extra exercise can lead to an average weight loss of 1 kg (2.2 lb) over five months.
Fitness trackers and fitness smartwatches measure heart rate and sports activities, as well as sleep patterns that should help the wearer lead a healthy life.
Check out our roundup of the best Fitbits and the best activity trackers.
The researchers reviewed nearly 400 global studies involving 164,000 people using wearable activity trackers to monitor their physical activity.
The value of low-cost wearable technology is seen in its ability to fight health problems “partially caused by a lack of exercise”, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancers and mental illnesses.
While just 1 kg of weight loss may seem minor, the researchers say that from a public health perspective, it is significant.
“Keeping in mind that these were not weight loss studies, but lifestyle physical activity studies, so we would not expect dramatic weight loss. “, says UniSA Professor Carol Maher, co-author of the review.
“The average person gains around 0.5kg per year in weight loss, so losing 1kg over five months is important, especially considering that two-thirds of Australians are either overweight or obese.”
Between 2014 and 2020, the number of wearable activity trackers shipped globally increased by nearly 1500%, translating into global spending of $2.8 billion in 2020.
Shipments of smartwatches and fitness trackers are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 11% through 2024, when 280 million units are expected to be sold.
The global fitness tracker market is expected to reach $91.98 billion by 2027.
To save money on activity trackers, check out our best up-to-date Fitbit deals.