Many years ago I flirted with a pedometer and the holy grail of 10,000 steps a day – even to the point of walking around my bedroom and several circuits of the house at the end of the day if the numbers were falling short. I did the same after surgery and did strive daily to get the numbers on a gradual incline while the scales were steadily moving to the left. Then, just like before, I became bored with it.
More recently I have taken to looking at other more tech savvy fitness
tracking devices and asking the advice of others as to the best around. But it would now appear, rather like me, that after all the breathless talk about the exercise revolution, wrist-worn fitness trackers have run out of puff … Why? Is it a question of their accuracy? Do they promise a great deal but fall short on delivery? Or does the research stack up when asking the question “Can measuring physical activity really help us to become healthier”? Read on for some answers …
GUEST POST: The Christmas before last I got a fitness tracker, one of those wristbands that promises to get you moving by setting a daily target of, say, 10,000 steps. For the first few weeks, I felt a smug glow of satisfaction whenever I hit my goal. I soon lost interest, however, and now it’s gathering dust.
Others also have their doubts, with critics asking whether the much-touted Fitbit revolution – named for the leading fitness tracker band – is a mirage. Can measuring physical activity really help us be healthier? A two-year study at Pittsburgh University in America found that people on a diet programme who used fitness trackers lost half as much weight as those on the same programme who were given health counselling instead. The only consolation for the wearable tech industry, which the analyst CCS Insight predicts will be worth £27bn by 2020, is that both groups lost some weight.
It’s possible that knowing how many calories we’ve burnt makes us feel better about sneaking that chocolate biscuit at 5 pm. Perhaps that explains why takeaways next to gyms do such good business.
Then there’s the inevitable infantilisation that comes from relying too heavily on any one gadget. John Jakicic, the lead researcher on the Pittsburgh study, suggests trackers “might give people a false sense of security, so they don’t pay attention to key behaviours they otherwise might pay attention to”.
This is a particular problem because brands often give wildly different estimates of walking distances. In America, Fitbit is also fighting a class-action lawsuit from users who claim its heart-rate monitors give such inaccurate readings that training programmes relying upon them are rendered useless. The company denies the claims.
It will come as no surprise that there is no miraculous shortcut to losing weight or getting fitter. Yet the interesting thing about the fitness tracker row is how it is a microcosm of the bigger debate about technology. Our inventions enale us to do things no humans have done before, but we often sacrifice our independence, privacy or sense of control over our lives – and pay handsomely for the privilege.
Courtesy of Helen Lewis The Sunday Times Magazine