fitness activity trackers and weight loss

Activity trackers may not be so helpful for your health after all

Fitness, Technology

As fewer people use wristwatches, more people have adopted the habit of wearing an activity tracker. We see them everywhere, and the idea is that they help make the wearer more conscious about how active they are. Many people use them with the hopes of losing weight.

But a study was just published September 20, 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the results, amazingly, were that people who wore a tracker less weight over a two-year period, compared with people who did not use the devices.

How the study was organized

The study was well performed. 471 young adult men and women, all overweight or obese, were recruited for the research. For the first six months of the study, everyone followed the same routine. They were all instructed to follow a low-calorie diet, and encouraged to move more. The goal was to engage in moderate activity at least 100 minutes per week. None of the participants at this point were using activity trackers.

At the end of the first six months, everyone had lost some weight. Now at this point, the participants were divided into two equal groups. One group was instructed to enter their daily activity into the study website. The other group was given an activity tracker. These people could see directly if they were meeting their daily activity goals or not. Throughout this period, all the participants were encouraged to continue the low-calorie diet.

Eighteen months later (2 years after the actual start of the study), all the participants were again weighed. The group that used the activity trackers lost, on average, 3.5 kg. over the 2 years. The group that did not use the trackers did better, and lost an average of 5.9 kg. The lead researcher in the study, Dr. John Jakicic, said “We were definitely surprised.”

Why the activity trackers failed

The researchers had expected that the people wearing the trackers would be motivated to move more, but they did not. The people who wore the device moved LESS than the people who didn’t use one. What was going on? The researchers are not sure themselves, but they have several theories.

One thought is that when people using the device noticed, on any given day, that it would be difficult to reach their exercise goal, they just gave up for the day. Another, more interesting theory, is that somehow the people with the device shifted responsibility for their health changes to the technology—the device— rather than focusing on their own behavior.

The researchers plan to do more studies to try to understand the results better. In the meantime, if you use an activity tracker, remember that the change in your diet and behavior has to come from you, yourself. No technology or device on its own will do that.

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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