If you’re psyched to finally drop a few pounds this year thanks to the fitness tracker you got for the holidays, you may wind up being a little disappointed by your new toy. Studies show more than half of the people who have fitness trackers eventually stop using them and about one-third completely give up using them within about six months.
One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016 not only found that activity trackers didn’t improve weight loss, but that people wearing trackers lost less weight than others who didn’t wear the devices.
The study followed 471 people ages 18 to 35 who were overweight. During the first six months of the study, the participants all followed a low calorie diet, got regular exercise and attended weekly group counseling sessions. After six months, half of the participants were given wearable devices that monitored exercise and diet.
At the end of the 24-month study, in which about three-quarters of participants made it through to the end, researchers found those who wore fitness trackers lost less weight. In fact, participants in the wearable device group lost an average of 7.7 pounds while participants in the non-device-wearing group lost an average of 13 pounds.
Keep in mind that although this study supports other findings that wearable activity trackers don’t contribute to long-term improvements in weight loss or fitness levels, it is only a single study. Certain limitations exist in the study such that the majority of the participants were white females. Therefore, it is hard to draw a conclusion for the entire population.
The lackluster findings about how long people use activity trackers and their effect on weight loss doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a fitness tracker if it motivates you to move more. It’s important to recognize that the devices are not a surefire way to become more fit or lose weight. You still have to do the work, no matter what you wear on your wrist.
There are benefits to wearing activity trackers for some people. For one, they can serve as good reminders to be more active. This is especially true for those who need an extra push to get off the couch. The trackers may also provide you with the incentive you need to set and meet fitness goals. Being able to see a tangible indication of how much you’ve moved or how far you still have to go can give you a reason to keep moving.
The key to making your new activity tracker work for you in reaching your goal is to keep things in perspective. While the devices can be very motivating at first, it’s important to realize they may eventually lose their motivational force. You should also recognize that just wearing the device won’t make you more fit, more active or more likely to lose weight. You still need to put in the effort necessary to change your eating and physical activity habits day after day and week after week to achieve sustainable results.