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Fitbit Could Encourage More Physical Activity Among Users


Despite evidence to the contrary, wearables like Fitbit not only boost physical activity but also spur tailored fitness plans.

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Wearable technology like Fitbit appears to encourage increased physical activity, according to a team of researchers from Central Queensland University in Australia.

In a recent study, they observed 243 Australian adults in a randomized trial, finding a strong correlation between providing an individual with a personal fitness tracker and getting that person to follow and maintain a physical regimen. The team published the study, “The Effectiveness of a Web-Based Computer-Tailored Physical Activity Intervention Using Fitbit Activity Trackers,” in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“There is a lot of commentary about activity trackers not being very useful, but our study contradicts this,” Corneel Vandelanotte, Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author, told Healthcare Analytics News™ via email. “We suspected that providing personal feedback based on objective measure (activity tracker) would be a lot more accurate and credible as compared to…a self-report measure.”

The team asked both its Fitbit-wearing and non-Fitbit-wearing groups to participate in its TaylorActive initiatives, which provided customized digital fitness interventions. However, participants in the non-Fitbit group had to self-report their fitness findings, while members of the Fitbit group saw their wearable update the TaylorActive site to provide personalized instruction.

After the three-month study ended, both groups saw not only a significant increase in total physical activity (an increase of 285 minutes for the Fitbit group and 120 minutes for the non-Fitbit group) but also moderate to vigorous physical activity (an increase of 117 minutes for the Fitbit group and 38 minutes for the non-Fitbit group).

Interestingly, researchers also observed a body mass index reduction in both sets of participants, even though they noted that a dietary component wasn’t part of the study.

But it was the Fitbit group that made the largest strides, even influencing participants’ perception of the TaylorActive website.

“[I found it most surprising] that participants in the Fitbit group rated the website higher (e.g. design, color scheme, usability, etc.) while the website was identical for both groups,” Vandelanotte said. “I think it must be that the overall package (website plus Fitbit) was more useful and attractive for people that they had better perceptions of the website because of this as well.”

Vandelanotte and the research team added two qualifying details to their study. The duration of the investigation, while conducted over several months, needs to run longerr to make greater conclusions about Fitbit’s effects on long-term health practices. Vandelanotte also said that because of budgetary concerns, the study only used a basic Fitbit model, the Fitbit Flex. When asked if the research team’s findings could be applicable to all fitness wearables, Vandelanotte wasn’t entirely sure — however, he was optimistic.

“I think a more advanced tracker may result in better outcomes, irrespective of the brand,” he said. “[I]f people can use the intervention with the tracker they like using best, then I think the outcomes will also be better. But we can only know for certain by doing another study.”

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