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Do Fitness Monitors Such as Wrist Bands Work?

by Matt Weik

Technology these days seems to be taking out the personal interaction between people. People have their face buried in their gadgets and doodads, completely unaware of their surroundings. Gadgets are popping up all over the place claiming to be the newest and hottest craze on the market and how there are even some gadgets to get people active and in shape. Now you see people walking around feeling better about themselves because they have a device that is supposed to keep them accountable for their own personal activity levels each day. Well, for the most part it isn’t working.

The amount of people who are overweight and obese is still rising. Even with more information available at people’s fingertips, they don’t seem to take their health seriously unfortunately until they get sick. Then it seems they like to follow directions in order to get well again. Some cases such as with cancer, you might not get the chance to change your poor habits and claim your life back.

Those people who decide to make a change in their life are using technology easily accessible to stay focused. They have apps on their phones ranging from nutrition trackers, exercise trackers, pedometers, weight and body fat trackers, etc. Now with the advent of fitness monitors that are wearable, not only can you monitor your activity level each day, but you can do it in style without wearing a device that screams “I’m wearing a fitness monitoring device!” Many these days are pretty stylish and can be worn with just about any wardrobe you can imagine. Dress it up or dress it down, it can sit easily on your wrist and tell you everything you want to know. Some are actual watches where others are streamlined bands that you can wear on your wrist. Some of them give you controls directly on the device while others sync up with your cell phone and/or computer to give you the data and stats. So where’s this technology going and does it appear to be working and beneficial?

A group of researchers were curious how these high tech fitness monitors that go on your wrist can affect someone’s activity levels during the day. Do they motivate people to get more active? Does simply wearing a device change your daily activity patterns or do people simply walk around with the tracker on their body and not engage in any more physical activity than when they wouldn’t be wearing the tracker? These researchers would soon find out that very answer.

The study called for 36 subjects to offer their services (their time and their body). Each subject was given a monitor to start off the study. The first round of the study the researchers gave the subjects a monitor and told them it was going to measure how much sunlight they were getting on a daily basis and sent them on their way. The subjects then wore the device and went on with their normal day. Then after several days the researchers had the subjects come back in where they gave the subjects another monitor to wear, this time telling them it will monitor how many steps they take each day (monitoring their activity levels). What the subjects didn’t know was that both devices they were given to wear were the exact same device that measures their steps and activity levels.

What did the devices show after comparing the data recorded from each subject? Absolutely nothing! The participants were identical whether they were wearing a device they were told monitors their exposure to sun or the other device they were told that monitors their steps and activity level. Zero change in activity patterns. My thought process was on par with what the researchers were hypothesizing and that would be the subjects would be noticeably more active when wearing the activity monitor than with the “control” device they were originally given to track their activity levels but were told it monitors sunlight. The “sunlight” device was to get a baseline of their normal daily activity levels so they could compare that to using a “fitness monitor” throughout the timeframe.

So what does this study show? It appears that no matter if someone is wearing a fitness tracker or not, ultimately it doesn’t change behaviors during the day. While that statement is generalized, we all know people out there who have purchased such a device and are using it for its main purpose and that is to get them more active during the day and give them feedback on how they are doing. But in this particular study, wearing such a device had an unusual outcome. We can’t rely on technology and devices to help us get more active and live a healthier lifestyle. That is ultimately up to you. If you aren’t motivated or have the desire to make the change in your life, it’s clearly apparent that such a device as a fitness monitor will not change behaviors. When it comes down to it, only you can make the change in your life. The device will simply help reinforce that by monitoring the activity if you so wish to use it and compare your daily data. Purchasing a fitness monitor is an investment, but there is no guarantee that YOU will use the tool to your advantage. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Same rings true here. Just because you purchased new technology, that doesn’t mean you’re going to instantly be ready to hit the beach with your new physique. You need to put in the work, while it’s the fitness trackers job to help you along the way.

Clarkson University. “Wearable fitness monitors don’t motivate exercise says study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2016. .

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