Not according to research out of the University of Pittsburgh
They’re the latest thing in fitness and health circles where everybody’s got one.
They range in price from around £50 to £300.
You wear them all day and night, usually on your wrist from where most of them link with your smartphone or laptop on which an app measures details like your heartrate, sleeping patterns, walking distances etc.
Most people use it to measure their levels of activity in a day, helping them to ensure that they give themselves an appropriate level of ‘workout’ (though in this case it can simply mean going up and down stairs or walking on the spot).
The manufacturers claim that, used correctly, trackers are hugely useful tools which have revolutionised personal fitness by taking data measurement out of the gym and placing it directly in the hands of the individual.
The team from Pittsburgh decided to put this to the test.
They recruited 471 participants for a two year long trial; each subject aged between 18 and 35, each with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 24 -40 (ranging from overweight to the upper obese range).
The subjects were divided into two groups.
For the first six months both groups were given the same behavioural weight loss intervention therapy with instructions to keep a food diary and a physical activity diary which they submitted to supervisors who provided encouragement and feedback.
From month seven, one group was asked to self-monitor its diet and exercise using a website designed for the purpose.
The others were provided with fitness monitors which relayed the information directly to their pc’s.
Neither group was provided with any more specific feedback though counselling and text message prompts were available by phone and both had access to online study materials.
Weight loss was measured and recorded at 6, 12, 18 and 24 months.
In both groups the biggest losses were measured in the first six months.
Over the course of the study the group without the electronic fitness monitors lost an average of 5.9kg compared to an average of only 3.5kg among the users of fitness trackers.
So does this mean we shouldn’t be wasting our money on these gadgets?
Only you can answer that.
The authors of the study noted that there was a greater drop off in the recording of data among the fitness monitor group meaning that more of that group gave up.
It’s also worth noting this group did not start out wearing their fitness monitors and therefore would not have seen the devices as integral to the fitness regime during the first six months during which they experienced the most success.
It would have been interesting to compare two groups where one was relying on the technology of the wrist bands from day one and would have possibly learned to trust it more and use it more successfully.
The final caveat to these interesting findings from the first research of its kind is to point out that the researchers were affiliated to weightwatchers.
This by no means invalidates their research but it does beg the question as to whether they entered the process with a predetermined idea of what they wanted to find.
Whether conscious or not, this can be a powerful influence on the micro management of the study and the interpretation of results.
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