Science Says Your Fitness Tracker Is Pretty Useless

Victoria Hoff
PHOTO:

Apple Watch

Remember when fitness trackers were all anyone could talk about? When donning a black ring around your wrist put out a statement to the world: I'm getting my 10,000 steps, are you? Of course, many of us are still don those digital bracelets with the utmost dedication—if not the Apple Watch—but thanks to the constantly changing tides of technology, wellness, and greater culture, we'd be lying if we said that portable fitness trackers still had the same cachet that they once did. Especially since it seems that more and more experts tend to agree that it's not the most accurate way to monitor your own fitness levels.

But perhaps this dwindling interest is just as well since scientists now have evidence that fitness trackers don't just have a minimal impact on weight loss efforts—they can actually hinder them. This is according to not one, but two telling new studies released in the past few weeks. 

For one, researchers split 471 overweight adults into two groups: one with fitness trackers and one without. Both groups were given dietary advice, health counseling, and instructions to exercise, and were monitored over the course of two years. Interestingly enough, after the allotted time was up, the group that didn't use the fitness trackers lost, on average, five pounds more than the group that did. It is worth noting that both groups were generally healthier than when they started, but still—five pounds is five pounds.

In the other study, researchers tested whether trackers really keep us motivated by monitoring a group of people over the course of a year—half were given a fitness tracker, while the others went without. Those who were given the trackers were also given some money to incentivize them, until payments stopped six months in. 

Here's where things get interesting: Even while getting paid to use them, 40% of the fitness tracker group stopped within the first six months. And while those who did use them during that first half of the year had slightly more vigorous routines than the group that didn't (while they were still receiving money), by the end of the study, only 10% of that group were still using their trackers. 

So is it time to toss your fitness tracker once and for all? Not necessarily. The grand takeaway is that while it can be helpful for keeping tabs on your own wellness goals, it's not a guaranteed tool for weight loss. For the long haul, it's probably better to rely on your own lifestyle changes than the bracelet around your wrist. 

Keep scrolling to see the fitness tech that we find helpful for staying fit.

This post was originally published on September 26, 2016.

Do you swear by a fitness tracker? What are your thoughts on the new study? Sound off below.

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