Fitbit Biking

Fitness Trackers Work – For Fitness

Last week, JAMA published a randomized, controlled study that showed fitness trackers don’t help people lose weight. This week, Obesity published a systematic review and meta-analysis of how well fitness trackers work for their intended purpose – promoting fitness activities. Surprise, surprise: adding a fitness monitor to fitness programs seems to yield more physical activity.

Herman de Vries and colleagues from the Netherlands conducted a systematic review of 14 studies with 1,157 participants. From those 14 studies, they found 11 suitable for inclusion in a meta-analysis. They found that:

Activity monitors may serve as a tool to enhance self-awareness of daily physical activity and to support individual behavioral physical activity interventions.

Behavioral physical activity interventions with an activity monitor increase physical activity in adults with overweight or obesity. Also, adding an activity monitor to behavioral physical activity interventions seems to increase the effect on physical activity, although current evidence does not yet provide conclusive evidence for its effectiveness.

That last bit regarding conclusive evidence is about the rigor of the available studies. When it comes down to really high quality studies looking at the incremental effect of an activity tracker, the numbers were relatively small. But there’s no doubt that behavioral programs incorporating a physical activity monitor really do work.

Consistent with the study last week in JAMA, these researchers found “no convincing evidence” that fitness trackers have any effect on weight loss.

Fitness and weight are separate albeit related goals. Better fitness and weight loss can both contribute to better health – independently. But the popular notion of working out to lose weight is a fiction.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that fitness trackers work for fitness, but not weight loss.

Click here to read the study in Obesity and here to read the study in JAMA.

Fitbit Biking, photograph courtesy of Fitbit, Inc.

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September 28, 2016