Fitness Trackers Lead to More Exercise, Study Finds

Lena Weib

Many of us hopped on the fitness tracker bandwagon a few years ago, myself included. Did I, at one point, wear both a FitBit and an Apple Watch? Why yes, yes I did. (I’m down to just the Apple Watch now, if you were wondering.) And while tracking your steps, stands, and minutes of exercise can be fun, interesting, and informative on its own, you might be wondering if these gadgets do actually help you become more active, which is the reason most of us buy them in the first place.

A new scientific review says yes, and it has the numbers to back it up. The review, conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen and published in “BMJ,” looked at data from 121 randomized trials of fitness trackers, involving over 16,700 adults with an average age of 47, and the studies lasted an average of 12 weeks.

The researchers found that people who wear a fitness tracker take an extra 1,235 steps a day and got 48.5 more minutes of “moderate to vigorous” exercise per week. They also noted that people wearing trackers tended to stand for nearly 10 more minutes, but described this change as too small to be significant. The most effective fitness trackers? No surprise here: the ones that give you feedback, like daily goals or reminders to stand up and move.

The researchers pointed out that the trials did skew toward higher-income countries, and that they varied quite a bit in method and design. Still, they wrote, this study “stands as the largest available systematic review and meta-analysis” looking at the effect of fitness devices on physical activity, and their conclusion was straightforward: these trackers can help you get more exercise on a day-to-day basis.

It’s also impressive to truly see what an effect a fitness tracker can have, especially laid out in numbers. Over 1,000 extra steps and almost 50 minutes more exercise is nothing to scoff at, and maybe it’ll make you feel a little differently the next time your Apple Watch reminds you that you haven’t stood up today. (I said maybe, OK?)

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