Written by Wendy Hunt for the Mansfield Pointe Claire
Poised to become the Crayola of crayons, Fitbit is the undisputed leader in the latest trend in wearable technology. These powerful watch sized units track number of steps, calories burned, distance travelled, number of floors climbed, quality of sleep and average heart rate – just for starters. Equally powerful are all the related applications allowing users to earn badges and challenge friends. The possibilities for data collection are endless and business is booming. On October 26, 2016, the American College of Sports Medicine announced that wearable technology is the top fitness trend for 2017.
Yet with a reported one in six Americans using wearable technology there remains a worsening obesity epidemic in both the US and Canada. Fitbits may make us feel smart, but they don’t seem to make us fitter.
Research firm Endeavor Partners reports that 32% of users abandon their smart wearable devices after 6 months, and 50% after one year. Like the stationary bike of the 90’s, Fitbit watches risk being relegated to a fitness graveyard of dusty abandoned toys and devices.
In September 2016, the Journal of American Medical Association reported results of a randomized study looking at the effect of wearable technology on long term weight loss. In this study, all participants were put on low calorie diets with prescribed exercise, counselling sessions and access to internet resources. One group were also provided with a wearable device to monitor diet and physical activity. Surprisingly, weight loss in the group using wearable technology was less, not more, than the control group. (JAMA 2016; 316(11):1161-1171)
What went wrong? The answer lies in the 50% of people who do NOT abandon their devices after one year. Dedicated runners and cyclists are drawn to wearable technology so they can track their times and personal bests and see how they stack up against the competition. These are individuals with a strong internal motivation to exercise and the opportunity for friendly online competition is addictive.
But people new to exercise and wanting to lose weight should not expect that using a wearable device alone will bring the results they seek. For the man who walked just 8,637 steps, the Fitbit may get him to walk 1,363 more to achieve the magic 10,000 step threshold. But to walk 10,000 steps every day and lose weight this person also needs to change his eating habits and his perceptions about food and exercise. Participating in aerobic classes or joining a walking group will bring exercise and social pleasure together in a synergistic union. Working with a dietician who can give practical recipes and advice on better eating habits will bring accountability and sustainable weight loss. Together this new healthy lifestyle must become an end in itself in order to build internal motivation. A Fitbit does not.
A well known parable comes to mind.
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Wendy Hunt’s professional career spans over 25 years working as a nurse and clinical researcher in the biotech industry. An avid cyclist, tennis player and cross country skier, Wendy brings her love of sport and her healthcare background to offer a unique perspective on issues related to health and fitness.