Global Health

Scientists say tracking your steps really does make you walk more

Fitness tracker health exercise wellbeing

Wearable fitness devices have been growing steadily. Image: REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

Victoria Masterson
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Global Health

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • People who use fitness trackers and apps are more active than people who don’t, taking 2,000 more steps a day.
  • Even small increases in activity level can have an impact at a population level, improving health and reducing the risk of occurrence of illness.
  • The pandemic has encouraged many to invest in fitness technology and has underlined the importance of such IoT enabled devices in our daily lives.

People who track the number of steps they walk take around 2,000 more steps a day than those who don’t.

New research from the University of Sydney has found that fitness trackers and apps are helping us exercise more.

Have you read?

Scientists reviewed physical activity in healthy adults aged 18-65 including daily step counts and the frequency, intensity and length of physical activity. The study is the first to prove the effectiveness of trackers and apps in improving physical activity levels.

And it’s good news for our health – potentially lowering our risk of chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

“It’s crucial to increase population physical activity levels to prevent major chronic conditions, such as heart disease, so these results are valuable information for guiding the design and implementation of future physical activity interventions,” says lead author Dr Liliana Laranjo, from Sydney University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health and Westmead Applied Research Centre.

Calorie Counter and Fitbit top the health and fitness apps in the Google Play store. Image: Statista

Alongside the trackers and apps, there are some prompts and interventions - such as personalisation and text messaging - that are particularly effective at encouraging more activity, Dr Laranjo adds.

With more and more people owning smartphones and fitness tech the study authors see the results as positive news for physicians too, who could encourage the use of this type of technology to support behavioural change.

Since it was unveiled in 2015, Apple’s smartwatch has become one of the leading wearable fitness devices. Image: Statista

A step change

The fitness technology market has been growing steadily, with Apple dominating the wearable section since launching its smart watch in 2015. Total end-user spending on wearable fitness devices is expected to reach $63 billion this year. The COVID-19 outbreak further boosted sales of wearable devices in 2019 with more people keen to track health data.

The pandemic has changed the exercise habits of many, with over a quarter of Americans saying they are doing less activity than normal. Image: Statista

With many of us in lockdown and restrictions placed on the types of activities we can do, the virus has also changed our exercise habits. For some, it has provided an opportunity to increase activity levels, despite gyms being closed and some sporting activities being suspended. Others have found it hard to equal previous levels of exercise.

Connected solutions

Internet-enabled devices and apps like fitness trackers are part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) – the world of connected devices that communicate with each other and with us. The pandemic has highlighted the growing importance these devices have come to play in our lives.

The World Economic Forum’s State of the Connected World 2020 Report, published in December 2020, points out that IoT applications such as connected thermal cameras, contact tracing devices and health-monitoring wearables are providing critical data needed to help fight the disease. In addition, temperature sensors and parcel tracking will help ensure that sensitive COVID-19 vaccines are distributed safely.

The report studies key challenges and opportunities for the IoT ecosystem and is part of the Forum’s Future of the Connected World initiative. This aims to identify systemic IoT challenges and create solutions for a more resilient, equitable, sustainable and connected world.

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Related topics:
Global HealthHealth and HealthcareCOVID-19Davos Agenda
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