Wearable Activity Trackers: Are They Effective In Improving Physical Activity And Health?

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Physical inactivity is very common in the lifestyle of most individuals and a major threat to population health. The combination of lack of physical activity and poor diet is considered one of the leading causes of death and diseases globally. It also amplifies the risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart diseases, obesity, depression, and anxiety. Therefore, finding ways to address the growing problem of physical inactivity is crucial to prevent its further implications for a person’s overall health.

Wearable activity trackers have grown considerably over the last years since wearables promise to encourage or aid users in adopting a healthier lifestyle and address physical inactivity. Wearables have cost-effective, visually appealing, and user-friendly features that can potentially promote behavior-change techniques, such as self-monitoring and goal setting. The promising potential of wearable activity trackers is probably why its market has grown tremendously over the years. In 2020, approximately $2.8 billion was spent on wearable activity trackers globally. However, despite the apparent potential of wearables, there is still a prevalent skepticism about the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers. Hence, a systematic review published in The Lancet Digital Health reviewed several studies on the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers in improving physical activity and found some important insights. In this article, we will briefly summarize the important insights on the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers in physical activity.

Introduction

With the prevalence of morbidities that result from a lack of physical activity, cost-efficient ways to address physical inactivity that are befitting the demands of the modern lifestyle are a must. Hence, wearable activity trackers are introduced as a low-cost means of addressing the problem brought by an inactive or sedentary lifestyle. 

However, although wearable activity trackers seem to hold great potential, there are still doubts about their effectiveness, which calls for further research and investigation to verify whether these trackers are helpful. More so, clinicians who are approached for advice regarding activity trackers must fully comprehend the user’s experience and everything there is to know about wearable activity trackers. Since there are hundreds of controlled trials for these technologies, now is a great time to gather evidence and centralize understanding of the effectiveness of activity tracker use in physical activity interventions.

Wearable Activity Trackers, Physical Activity, and Overall Health Outcomes

After careful analysis of 39 systematic reviews of experimental studies on the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers, The Lancet study was able to determine the following significant findings:

  • There is evidence that wearable activity trackers affect physical activity across many criteria.
  • Interventions using wearables resulted, on average, an extra 1800 steps per day, 40 min per day more walking, and a 6 min increase in moderate to vigorous physical activity. 
  • Wearable activity-tracker use effectively increase physical activity and support modest weight loss in various clinical and non-clinical populations and age groups.
  • The benefit of wearable activity tracker is of clinical importance, and gains appear to last for at least 6 months.
  • Wearable activity trackers positively impact the improvement of physiological outcomes such as BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin, waist circumference, and body weight.

In conclusion, there is significant evidence that supports the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers in improving physical activity outcomes such as light physical activity, moderate physical activity, vigorous physical activity, overall physical activity, steps, and walking. It is also significant in improving body composition, fitness, and cardiometabolic markers. Additionally, wearable activity tracker has a positive impact on improving quality of life.

Key Takeaway

It is beyond dispute that participating in regular physical activity has a wide range of advantages. But despite the well-known benefits, physical inactivity remains a widespread cause of health problems. Although there are existing interventions to help increase physical activity participation, levels of physical activities still tend to decline over time. Hence, other means of intervention like wearable activity trackers are introduced to become an alternative strategy for encouraging people to keep up their physical activity since it allows users to monitor their activity levels objectively.

Interventions based on wearable activity trackers have a lot of potential to improve people’s health outcomes by promoting physical activity. Wearables can also be a useful tool for helping medical professionals monitor and support patients regularly. It’s critical to consider how these devices can be adopted for longer-term use with other components to maximize their ability to increase physical activity and improve health outcomes.

Journal Reference

Ferguson, T., Olds, T., Curtis, R., Blake, H., Crozier, A. J., Dankiw, K., Dumuid, D., Kasai, D., O’Connor, E., Virgara, R., & Maher, C. (2022). Effectiveness of wearable activity trackers to increase physical activity and improve health: A systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The Lancet Digital Health, 4(8). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2589-7500(22)00111-x 

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