Healthy Living

Don't Rely On Your Fitness Tracker To Lose Weight

But it can still improve your health and happiness.
02/20/2017 05:02pm ET | Updated February 21, 2017
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Fitness trackers can be a component of a healthier, happier lifestyle, but may not translate to weight loss.

These days, Fitbits and Jawbones adorn arms the way watches once did.

And for good reason: Wearable technology can log the steps you take in a day, track heart rate during workouts and help you get better sleep.

All of these positive lifestyle changes may cause people to assume that the devices will also help them lose weight. That’s a reasonable assumption, but there is actually very little evidence that fitness trackers, alone, will lead to weight loss.

“Many new technologies, and dietary supplements and new diets, are sold to the public with little actual research behind them. Wearable technology to encourage fitness is no different,” Aaron E. Carroll recently wrote in The New York Times, pointing to a study first reported on last year.

In fact, fitness tracker users lose less weight than people who track their activity manually through a website, according to a two-year weight loss study of nearly 500 overweight or obese adults.

The study, conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and published in JAMA in 2016, found that participants who relied on a fitness tracker to monitor weight loss actually lost, on average, more than 5 pounds less than similar participants who tracked their activity through a website.

It’s important to note that the study only looked at people who were participating in a weight loss program that included a host of resources, including a low-calorie diet plan, physical activity goals and both group and individual counseling. And while one group lost more weight than the other, both groups lost weight and improved physical fitness.

The study underscores the idea that tackling the tough business of weight loss may require a multi-pronged approach ― and slapping a wearable on your wrist will only help if you’ve committed to a lifestyle overhaul.

But that doesn’t mean your Jawbone or Fitbit is useless: Apart from weight loss, a wearable device might just make you happier: The built-in alarms nudging you to stand up, take a break and walk more steps can be part of a healthier lifestyle. And research shows that just going for a walk can increase your happiness almost immediately.

Sounds worth it to us.