Fitness Tech: Worth The Hype?

by Alexandra Uren . January 5, 2017

Christmas is a time for indulgence. Whether it’s Quality Streets, mince pies or that extra glass of Baileys, we all love to treat ourselves, and we continue to treat ourselves even when our jeans refuse to do up and the scales scream at us to stop eating. We carry on because we know that, come January, everything changes.

If you’re anything like the team at Borne Digital, you may have set yourself a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. However, despite all our good intentions, this resolution (alongside turning you into a New Year’s cliché) has a worryingly low success rate.

In a study of American people, the percentage of people in their 20s who actually manage to achieve their resolutions is just 37.8%. Now if that’s not an excuse to sack it in altogether and dive head first into a wheel of brie then I don’t know what is. It’s safe to say that when it comes to the all important January detox, the cards are definitely not stacked in our favour.

However, thanks to the explosion of fitness tech, we all seem convinced that this January will be different. We no longer need to hire personal trainers or nutritionists to help burn off five portions of roast potatoes, we have our fitness tech. From calorie counting apps, motivational podcasts to fitness wearables, we have everything we need to reach optimum health by the end of January, right?

As the proud owners of Fitbits, we are spending this January tracking our heart rate, our step count, our water intake and the protein content of our egg mayonnaise sandwiches. We are more clued up than ever thanks to our wearables, and we are not the only ones. It is estimated that the wearable tech market will be worth $34 billion dollars by 2020.

But, do they actually work?

We cannot deny the incredible insights fitness wearables give us into our day-to-day movements. Being able to see, at a glance, how your resting heart rate has changed over time or how many calories you have burned that day is strangely absorbing and the benefits huge. By monitoring, well, everything, fitness wearables can help users see how much we are actually eating, remind us to drink more water or encourage us to take the stairs instead of the lift. Encouraging these good habits seems a sure-fire way to trim our waistlines and increase our fitness.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to our portable personal trainers. Studies on the accuracy of the wearables showed that Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24 and Misfit Shine all overestimated calorie expenditure during aerobic exercise and underestimated it during resistance training. Although each tracker seemed to be consistent in it’s margin for error, this is unlikely to reassure the flab-fighting users and is a big concern for anyone taking their fitness seriously.

Fitbit have come under fire for their heart rate inaccuracies, and have faced law suits in the past. For healthy users, an inaccurate heart rate tracker is inconvenient and annoying, but for those with heart problems, inaccurate heart rate monitors are potentially dangerous.

However, even if we ignore the potential inaccuracies for the time being, is a fully functioning, completely accurate fitness wearable the solution to our steadily increasing waistline? Alas, it’s still a no. While the wearables of course work for many users, some have claimed that their fitness technology has actually caused them to gain weight. Fitness tech forums are filled with threads of people asking fellow users whether they too, have gained weight since they began using their fitness tech.

This rather concerning feedback has been reinforced by a study in which 470 people were put on a low-calorie diet and asked to increase their exercise. All began to lose weight and, 6 months in, half the group were given fitness trackers to monitor their activity and calories. After two years, results showed that the people using the fitness trackers actually lost less weight than those without them.

So is it time to hurl our watches out the window and face the terrifying world of low-fat yoghurt and kale smoothies alone? Not quite.

It may sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering that it is not the fitness tracker that creates the success stories and #TransformationTuesday photos we see on Instagram. It is hard work and dedication. There is only so far tracking every step and calorie consumed can get you. Sure, the knowledge is valuable, but knowledge itself will not make you lose weight. Putting your body through hell on the treadmill and weighing your spinach every morning however, may do. Fitness wearables are not magic wands, you still have to put in the effort.

Experts also seem concerned that wearables provide false assurances that people are staying active. After seeing you have completed 10,000 steps, it is easy to reason with yourself that you are done for the day, even if those 10,000 steps were spent wandering around Westfield shopping centre clutching a cheeseburger in one hand and a can of Fanta in the other. Let’s face it, doing this doesn’t really count, but when it comes to analysing the information your Fitbit gives you, it is easy to see how people convince themselves that it does.

We are refusing to feel demoralised and will continue to use our fitness wearables in our daily lives, albeit taking it’s analysis with a pinch of salt. As long as the tech encourages users to adopt healthy habits, we’re confident that we will continue to see the scales drop, or at least until national ‘throw in the towel day’, two weeks into the new year.

 

More like this