Image source: Fitbit

The scientific proof is in – fitness trackers really do help improve lifespan

Most of us who never leave home without a fitness tracker know that maintaining small, healthy habits can make a big difference in our overall wellbeing and fitness. We’ve never had scientific proof, though, that the guidelines fitness trackers dish out actually relate directly to our health.

Until now.

Most fitness devices incorporate the exercise 150 minutes per week calculation about how much exercise a person should complete. But the recommendation is based on studies from previous years in which people told scientists how much they remembered moving and not on actual fitness tracker data.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology a few weeks ago, looked at whether there were significant differences between the two. Among the 2003–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cohort, 3,809 adults 40 years of age or older wore an accelerometer for 1 week and self-reported their physical activity levels. Scientists then compared the differences between self-reported and accelerometer data to confirm an objective measure of how much activity people were getting.

Essential reading: Which Fitbit should I get?

For the second part of the study, scientists looked at a nationally representative sample of subjects who tried to meet the US physical activity recommendations through either self-reported or accelerometer data, and compared them to those who lived a sedentary lifestyle. They checked their names against those in the National Death Registry within an average of 6.7 years, to determine whether meeting the 150-minute-per-week fitness tracker guideline affected how long they lived.

It turns out that it did.

Those men and women who, according to their activity trackers, had exercised moderately for at least 150 minutes per week were about 35% less likely to have died prematurely than those who had been less active. Having higher accelerometer-assessed average counts per minute was associated with lower all-cause mortality risk.

“The timing of these findings could not be better, given the ubiquitous nature of personal accelerometer devices,” wrote Dr. Timothy Church, a professor of preventive medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., in a commentary accompanying the study.

“The masses are already equipped to routinely quantify their activity, and now we have the opportunity and responsibility to provide evidenced-based, tailored physical activity goals.”

This is the first, scientifically compelling rationale for owning an activity monitor. Having higher accelerometer-assessed average counts per minute is associated with lower all-cause mortality risk. Researchers concluded that their findings supported the national physical activity recommendations for reducing all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

“We have evidenced-based physical activity guidelines, mass distribution of devices to track activity, and now scientific support indicating that meeting the physical activity goal, as assessed by these devices, has substantial health benefits,” added Dr. Church.

“All of the pieces are in place to make physical inactivity a national priority, and we now have the opportunity to positively affect the health of millions of Americans.”

It is a well known fact that fitness tracker sales have seen a very strong increase in recent years. Global shipments of wearables are expected to reach a record 101.9 million units this year, nearly a third up on 2015. Growth will continue in the years to come. IDC predicts that annual shipments will more than double by 2020 to 213.6 million units per year.

While still relatively high, the number of people who don’t own a fitness tracker has come down over the past year. According to a recent online questionnaire answered by more than 45,000 adults in the US, some 18% of people in the country now own a fitness device. Around 7% said they are likely to purchase an activity tracker over the next year, which should bump the figure up to 25%.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets you can buy today

Activity trackers are expected to be a popular holiday gift again this year. And there is a much wider selection to choose from than last year. Even mechanical watch lovers are joining in the technology craze by purchasing analogue smartwatches. These are traditional looking timepieces that combine style with behind the scenes digital smarts.

It is looking pretty good for wearables manufacturers right now. Their popularity is set to explode in the coming years and now science has confirmed – they really can help improve our health and extend our lives, as long as we follow their guidelines. So next time your monitor prompts you to walk for 30 minutes, there is now objective proof that doing so may extend your life.

Source: New York Times

Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!

Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.