- A recent published in PLOS Medicine confirmed that a fitness tracker can help keep you accountable for years to come regarding maintaining activity levels.
- Researchers found that after using a fitness tracker for 12 weeks, participants were more likely to increase their levels of physical activity years later.
- Those who tracked their activity were also 44 percent less likely to have a bone fracture and 66 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
If you’re addicted to closing your rings on your Apple Watch or hitting your step goal on your Garmin or Fitbit, you’re probably not alone—and you might be setting yourself up for future fitness success: Self-monitoring and goal-setting using a fitness tracker can lead to a major lifestyle change, a recent published in PLOS Medicine suggests.
The study tracked the exercise minutes of over 1,000 participants age 45 to 75—most of whom at the start of the study were overweight or obese. Their typical exercise beforehand was around 90 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Then, half of the participants were given pedometers to track their exercise for 12 weeks. The others went about their activity as usual.
After four years, researchers followed up with all of the participants to see how much they were exercising and how likely they were to develop a range of health conditions, like heart attack or stroke or bone fracture.
The researchers discovered that not only had the pedometer users kept up their exercise habits longterm, but they actually increased their weekly exercise by 30 minutes. On the other hand, researchers found that those who did not use a pedometer during those initial 12 weeks decreased their exercise over time.
“Although the intervention using the pedometer was only for 12 weeks, by three to four years, they were still walking more, so they had changed their longterm habits,” Tess Harris, M.D., professor of primary care research as St. George’s University of London told Runner’s World.
The participants who tracked with a pedometers years earlier also saw health gains as well as activity increases: At the follow up, they were 66 percent less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those who did not track. They were also 44 percent less likely to suffer a bone fracture.
The researchers believe the health benefits are tied to the increase in activity. Makes sense, because previous research has shown that upping your cardio fitness can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease. What’s more, research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research has shown that weight-bearing activity is good for bone health, which may be a reason that those who increased their weekly exercise minutes saw a reduced risk for fractures.
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While the subjects in the study used a pedometer, Harris said that what was important was self-monitoring and goal-setting, so you could also use your favorite smartwatch or other goal-setting metric to help keep yourself accountable.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not just all about steps: Getting in purposeful steps, or adding an extra run during the week depending on your fitness level, is where you’ll begin to see your health improve.
“It is not just the number of steps—it is the intensity that is important for health benefits. Walking at about 1,000 steps per 10 minutes or adding in 3,000 [steps] in 30 minutes on most days per week ensures for most people that they are walking at moderate intensity. It is enough to get their heart rate up, get a bit warm and breathless,” Harris said. “This is more important than a random 10,000 step count.”
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