Millions of people around the world believe that fitness trackers, pedometers and smartwatches motivate them to exercise more and lose weight, according to a new study by Australian researchers. The results of the study are published in Lancet Digital Health.

Wearable activity trackers encourage us to walk up to 40 minutes more each day (roughly 1,800 more steps), resulting in an average of 1kg of weight loss over five months.

Researchers from the University of South Australia reviewed almost 400 studies involving 164,000 people worldwide using activity trackers (WATs) to monitor their physical activity.

Their findings highlight the value of low-cost interventions to address a growing epidemic of health conditions partly caused by lack of exercise, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental illness.

UniSA PhD candidate lead researcher Ty Ferguson says despite the popularity of WATs, there is widespread skepticism about their effectiveness, accuracy and whether they fuel obsessive behavior and eating disorders, but the evidence is overwhelmingly positive.

“The overall results of the studies we reviewed show that wearable activity trackers are effective across all age groups and over long periods of time,” says Ferguson. “They encourage people to exercise regularly, make it part of their routine and set goals to lose weight.”

A 1kg weight loss may not seem like much, but researchers say it’s significant from a public health perspective.

“Given that these are not weight loss studies, but lifestyle physical activity studies, so we wouldn’t expect dramatic weight loss,” said UniSA’s Professor Carol Maher, co-author of the review.

“The average person gains about 0.5kg a year with weight creep, so losing 1kg in five months is significant, especially when you consider two-thirds of Australians are overweight or obese.”

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of wearable activity trackers shipped worldwide increased by almost 1,500 percent, translating into global spending of $2.8 billion (roughly Rs. 22,500 crore) in 2020.

In addition to the extra physical activity and weight loss attributed to WATs, there is some evidence that fitness trackers also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes and other health problems.

“The other reported benefit is that WATs improve depression and anxiety by increasing physical activity,” says Ferguson.


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