People walk more and lose weight just by wearing a fitness tracker, study says

ADELAIDE, Australia — If you can’t seem to find any motivation lately to get up off the couch, new research out of Australia reports it may be worth investing in a fitness tracker, smart watch, or pedometer. Scientists at the University of Southern Australia report a connection between wearable activity trackers, exercising more, and losing weight.

More specifically, the study finds these tracking devices encourage people to walk up to 40 minutes more per day (roughly 1,800 more steps). This results in an average weight loss of 2.2 pounds over the course of five months.

To research this topic, study authors reviewed nearly 400 studies encompassing 164,000 people living all over the globe who had been using wearable activity trackers (WATs) to monitor their physical activity.

All in all, what the research team discovered highlights the potentially major upside of low-cost interventions like fitness trackers when it comes to fighting the growing list of public health problems such obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mental illness.

Lead researcher and UniSA PhD candidate Ty Ferguson explains that while fitness trackers are fairly popular, a great deal of skepticism remains regarding their effectiveness, accuracy, and whether or not they contribute to unhealthy obsessive behaviors and eating disorders. By and large, however, researchers stress that the vast majority of evidence points to these devices being more beneficial than anything else.

“The overall results from the studies we reviewed shows that wearable activity trackers are effective across all age groups and for long periods of time,” Ferguson says in a university release. “They encourage people to exercise on a regular basis, to make it part of their routine and to set goals to lose weight.”

Is losing 2 pounds really worth it?

Shedding 2.2 pounds over the course of five months may not sound like the best weight loss plan in the world, but study authors explain that when you consider the overall public health across the entire population, it is actually quite notable.

“Bearing in mind these were not weight loss studies, but lifestyle physical activity studies, so we wouldn’t expect dramatic weight loss,” adds study co-author UniSA Professor Carol Maher. “The average person gains about 0.5 kg a year in weight creep so losing 1kg over five months is significant, especially when you consider that two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese.”

If one thing is certain, it’s that more and more people are using activity trackers. Between 2014 and 2020, the amount of these devices shipped on a global scale increased by nearly 1,500 percent. That equates to $2.8 billion global spent in 2020 alone.

Besides just weight loss, wearing activity trackers display a link to lower blood pressure and cholesterol among type 2 diabetes patients and individuals living with other health conditions.

“The other reported benefit is that WATs improved depression and anxiety through an increase in physical activity,” Ferguson concludes.

The study is published in The Lancet Digital Health.