The stunning science behind fitness trackers


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Between your phone, your watch, your pedometer, your glasses, your shoes, and your headphones, fitness devices are everywhere. In fact, some fitness devices have their own tracking devices in a never-ending loop of tracking your tracking. But here’s the question:
Do fitness trackers really work?

Good morning and welcome to the Ben Garves Podcast - a show at the intersection of health, activism, and technology. I’m your host, Ben Garves.

Amazon, Apple, Garmin, Nike, UnderArmour, WHOOP, Fitbit...Peloton…
It’s 2021 and really, who isn’t in the fitness tracker game? They track your steps, your heart rate, your swimming stroke, food intake, running gait, sleep quality, and more. But does that abundance of information have a positive impact on your fitness journey?

It’s estimated over two and a half billion (with a “b”) adults around the globe are considered overweight or obese, and therefor at risk of a whole slew of chronic diseases from cardiopulmonary issues (those are of the lungs and blood), to the pancreas, in the form of Type II diabetes. The problem isn’t just personal for those who struggle with obesity - it’s estimated 85% of healthcare costs in the United States and 70% of deaths are related to diseases caused or exacerbated by obesity.

Many fitness trackers hone in on a magical number: 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, recommended by a number of researchers, as the minimum amount of activity someone needs to achieve every week in order to maintain a basic level of health. If you don’t know how many minutes of activity you hit last week, that’s the value of these tools. Whether they’re tracking steps or time spent exerting yourself, they all circle back to the simple idea of getting physically active.

A recent analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine combined data from 31 clinical trials, adding up to 2,268 participants, and found a modest reduction of body weight was able to fight off five to ten percent of adverse health effects related to various obesity-adjacent cancers, heart diseases, metabolic syndromes, sleep apnea, and cholesterol issues.

The study also found weight loss from someone who spent at least twelve weeks focusing on the feedback from their fitness trackers averaged over nine pounds.

Most importantly, these things are so accessible! A basic Fitbit can run less than a hundred dollars, free apps like Apple’s Health app being available on your phone, and really great proactive suggestions coming from Garmin’s inked watches and app (my personal favorite).

Don’t forget if you’re shopping for a device that it can be as simple as taking a long walk every night after work, and that buying a device doesn’t solve the problem: doing the work does. But the studies do prove that having a device as a companion does help you along your journey.

That wraps it up for today. Thanks for listening to the Ben Garves Podcast, at the intersection of health, activism, and technology. Don’t forget, Fitness is for Everyone™.