A recent study has found wearable fitness trackers might actually be undermining health and weight-loss goals. Researchers from the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center published a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association about the effectiveness of fitness trackers for long-term weight loss. Their findings came as a surprise to both the researchers and, now, the internet.
The study looked at 500 overweight men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 over the course of two years. For the first six months, the subjects were instructed to follow the same low-calorie diet and moderate exercise plan. All of the subjects subsequently lost weight.
The next phase of the study asked half of the subjects to track their daily physical activity online, and the other half were to use a fitness tracker. Unexpectedly, those who wore the fitness tracker were less active and lost fewer pounds.
One researcher, Dr. John Jakicic, told The New York Times they were initially confident that those who wore the fitness trackers would exercise more. Instead, the subjects who logged their activity online lost, on average, 13 pounds, and the others lost about eight pounds. "We were definitely surprised," he added.
Though the researchers cited multiple explanations, Dr. Jakicic thinks it's possible that those wearing the trackers felt discouraged by their large exercise goals and would give up during their workouts since they were seeing their results in real time. It's also possible that the technology became the focus of their workouts, as opposed to reaching a personal limit of exertion and effort. "People may have focused on the technology and forgotten to focus on their behaviors," Dr. Jakicic said.
While we've found fitness trackers to be effective, they can be counterproductive for those who feel disappointed by their results and thereby give up altogether. If anything, this study serves as a reminder to be honest about the positive or negative effect trackers may have on your personal goals.