Should I invest in a fitness tracker?

One of the fastest growing technology segments involves fitness tracking apps and gadgets. Whether your activity of choice is a daily yoga session, marathon training or planning rugby drills, there is an app or gadget out there which claims to help you make progress. Well over 25 million will be sold this year.

They can be a great gadget to have, particularly if you work in a very sedentary desk job as it will encourage you to get up where possible and stretch your legs as well as popping out for a quick walk during our lunch hour. Occupational Health Gloucester companies such as are often called in to help employees within companies that are experiencing health issues that may be caused by sitting for prolonged periods of time as well as other issues.

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How they work

One such takes the form of a wristband which monitors your heart rate and sleep pattern, vibrates to remind you to get up and move if it determines that you have been idle for a while, records your diet and exercise routine and tells you how many calories you are burning. It includes a goal setting feature and comparisons with other users.

Can these devices realistically improve health and fitness levels? Will those who spend £40 – £150 on them up their game fitness wise, or will this be another gadget shoved to the back of a cupboard or left languishing in the bottom of gym bags? Even if you use the device rigorously, is the information it provides helpful and accurate?

Reliable scientific evidence either way is thin on the ground. One US study saw half of a group of 51 overweight women issued with a Fitbit fitness tracker and the other half with a pedometer. After a month, the Fitbit group was taking an extra hour of physical activity per week and claimed to feel motivated to reach their health and fitness goals by the system. Fitness tracking systems offer a number of helpful motivating features such as goal setting, progress monitoring, regular feedback, social support and confirmation of achievement.

A further study showed that people using fitness trackers tended to stick with their exercise programme for longer than those going under their own steam. People find it interesting and exhilarating to be able to watch how their body responds to exercise, allowing them to engage more enthusiastically with their fitness plan.

The dark side

However, scientific experiments have thrown up questions about the accuracy of the data given by the tracing devices, with error margins between 15%-30% on energy expenditure and a sense of psychological pressure through constant monitoring and nagging to reach targets.

Ultimately such systems are probably best used as an adjunct to a decent training plan rather than as a replacement personal trainer or fitness coach.

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