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Wearable Fitness Devices: Helpful Or Hurtful?

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Matt Griffith, CSCS

Wearable fitness devices are currently all the rage. From your basic pedometer to the iWatch, you can’t step outside without seeing at least a handful of people wearing one or another. But are they really helping you or are they just the newest, coolest, fitness trend?

A recent study done at the University of Pittsburgh states that they may be less helpful than we think (1). Over the course of 24 months they had 470 people enlisted in a study where half wore a fitness device and the other half did not. The entire group was also given counseling around nutrition and physical activity but not specific meal or exercise plans. The results they found seemed exactly the opposite of what you would think. The group wearing the devices lost an average of 7.7 pounds while the non-device wearing group lost an average of 13 pounds (1).

Why is this so vastly different? Because, just like any fitness goal, weight loss especially when it comes to food intake, if you track it you can dismiss it. What’s that mean? Think about it. If you go to the gym and you burn 400 calories more than you would have not going to the gym, in your mind it’s so much easier to say “I earned this cupcake today” versus if you went to the gym and had no idea if you burnt enough calories to cover your coffee for the day. We all do it, maybe not every day, but in some form or another.

Another reason the device group lost less; they threw the wearable technology into the drawer. Author of the study, John Jakicic states “Anecdotally, these devices tend to work or people tend to engage with them for about three months or so, and after that, a lot of people start throwing them in the drawer. They get bored with them (1).” Another reason I’ve seen in my years as a trainer is the same as most every workout or diet program fails; they miss a few days and start the inevitable “I’ll start Monday” routine, that goes on for a week, a month, or six months.

So what’s this fitness professional’s opinion of wearable fitness technology? It’s just like any nutrition or exercise program. You have to stick with it for the long haul, you can’t justify your food intake with exercise, and there isn’t a substitute for hard work in the gym or in the kitchen. A healthy nutrition game-plan is 80% of a weight loss goal, while the physical aspect is only 20%. Hitting that 10,000 step goal isn’t going to count for anything if you eat a whole pizza in one sitting. Be smart; eat less and move more!


1.Scutti, Susan “Could your fitness tracker sabotage your diet?” CNN.com Cable News Network, 20th September 2016. Web. 4th October 2016.

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