Lancet study finds benefits of activity trackers ‘outweigh drawbacks’ and help boost daily average step counts by 1,800 strides

The Lancet study suggests that fitness trackers really do help wearers move more and encourage a more active lifestyle.

Researchers involved in the report, published in renowned medical journal, The Lancet Digital Health, examined 39 studies analyzing activity trackers, involving nearly 164,000 participants. The participants were from all age groups and included both healthy individuals and those with chronic conditions and illnesses.

They found that tracker usage led to higher levels of physical activity overall. On average, people got an extra 1,800 steps and walked for 40 minutes more on a daily basis compared to those in non-tracker groups. Trackers also contributed to improved body composition. Researchers typically measured these changes over a period of around three to six months, albeit sometimes longer.

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of wearable activity trackers shipped worldwide grew dramatically, increasing by an estimated 1444%, The Lancet study reported.

In 2020, approximately $2.8 billion was spent on wearable activity trackers globally. Accordingly, the body of research examining the use of wearable activity trackers for measuring and intervening on physical activity has expanded rapidly.

Despite their popularity, the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers has been questioned by some members of the scientific and medical community, as well as the general public. Yet these results run counter to those claims, the study’s lead author, Carol Maher, Ph.D., research professor at the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition, and Activity at the University of South Australia, explains.

This provides a counter argument for common criticisms and concerns over wearable trackers fueling obsessive behaviours such as eating disorders and exacerbation health inequities. The results certainly contradict suggestions that these devices are simply ineffective when it comes to encouraging people to undertake physical activity.

“Such studies, however, represent the tip of a now voluminous body of evidence regarding wearable activity trackers and physical activity,” the Lancet-published study said.

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