Can Using a Fitbit Have a Long-Term Impact on Your Health?

Mar 12, 2018 at 1:12 p.m. ET
Image: James Porcini/Getty Images

Pedometers are nothing new. Wearable devices that tracked your steps were introduced in Japan in the 1960s, and people have been using some version of them since. But once smartphones and dedicated fitness trackers like the Fitbit started gaining popularity in the mid-2000s, even people who didn't own one started to become more aware of our 10,000-steps-per-day goal.

Sure, it's fun to watch your steps turn into miles and compete with your friends and family to see who moves around the most, but are these gadgets actually doing any long-term good?

According to a new study out of University of St George's London, there is some evidence to suggest that using these wearable step trackers may help improve your health beyond the initial new technology excitement period.

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The article, published in PLOS Medicine, indicates that people who initially started using a fitness-tracking device as part of a 12-week walking program have more active lifestyles three and four years later. It also stresses that getting around 30 minutes of walking most days of the week can help adults achieve a variety of health benefits.

One part of the study examined a group of 1,023 inactive 45- to 75-year-old adults — some of which received pedometers and advice regarding physical activity, while another group did not. Three years after an initial 12-week walking program, researchers followed up with participants and found that those who used a pedometer in the trail walked an average of around 600 extra steps each day, and got 24 to 28 extra minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity weekly in 10-minute bouts compared to those who did not receive step-tracking devices and advice.

The other part of the study had the same premise and involved 298 individuals from 60 to 75 years old. Four years following their walking program, the group that received the wearable technology and advice were doing approximately an extra 400 steps per day and an extra 33 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity in 10-minute bouts compared to the group who had received usual care.

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“We knew that pedometers could improve physical activity levels in the population in the short-term, but long-term health benefits require sustained increases in physical activity levels," Dr. Tess Harris, professor of primary care research at St George’s University of London, who led both trials, said in a statement. “What is unique about this study is that we have shown that short, simple pedometer-based walking interventions, whether delivered by post, or with advice and support from practice nurses, can lead to greater objectively measured physical activity levels three to four years later.”

The moral of the story is that once you get used to incorporating certain levels of physical fitness in your everyday life, it becomes a habit that you are more likely to stick with. So go out and get those steps!

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