THE BLOG

Do Fitness Apps Really Work?

14/10/2016 12:40

It seems that almost every week a new health app or fitness tracker enters the market or an existing one announces a new feature to help us meet our health and fitness goals. It's no surprise considering that Ergotron recently revealed that more than 50 percent of people believe that wearable devices or mobile apps that monitor nutrition and activity are the health investments that provide the greatest return. But how good are they? If they accomplish their goal of exercise and nutrition is that enough to ensure great health?

They're certainly popular, in the UK sales of wearable devices - activity trackers and smart watches - are expected to reach five million, with 10 million devices expected to be in use before the end of 2016 according to research company CCS Insight.

Yet despite this there are still very few studies that look at how they impact weight and fitness levels. The University of Pittsburgh recently carried out a study which found that volunteers wearing fitness trackers lost, on average about 8lbs (3.6kg) as opposed to those who didn't use devices who lost about 13lbs (5.9kg)

Knowledge is power, but what if we've got the focus all wrong? A market saturated with fitness apps and devices is great for encouraging exercise, but the reality is that low level physical activity-- things like standing and walking-- will have a much greater impact on health and wellbeing than exercise alone. So while it's all well and good logging moderate to vigorous exercise, it's still possible to be highly sedentary, the negative impacts of which are far reaching. Having alerts that tell you to walk a certain number of steps or exercise a certain number of minutes every day doesn't address or prevent sedentary behaviour or the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. It's true the human body does need periods of rest, but they should be fleeting, not the norm like being left stationary seated at a desk all day.

Carrie Schmitz, Ergotron's Manager of Ergonomic Research recommends increasing low intensity, 'non-exercise' activities, such as walking or standing, which can play a critical role in one's metabolic performance. In fact, frequent low-intensity activities can account for more daily energy expenditure than a moderate-to-high intensity activity, such as running. Did you know that if you stand for three additional hours each day over the course of a year you can burn up to 30,000 extra calories, that's the equivalent of running about ten marathons?

Making Simple Lifestyle Changes

While it's fair to say that today's working population is more focused on health and wellbeing than ever before there are still gaps when thinking about being active through the entire day. Of course wearable devices and fitness apps can assist in keeping you healthy at work and beyond, as long as you know their strengths and limitations. For the greatest gains, focus not only on achieving steps and exercise, but break up the times throughout the day when you are most sedentary, for example, the commute to work, time spent at your desk or time spent in meetings or on conference calls.

Ways to stand or move more may be as simple as choosing to stand on the bus instead of sit on the way to work, or standing periodically during a conference call or in a meeting. Other simple workstyle changes might include a standing desk at work or a wall mount in a home office--these are small changes that can have a monumental impact on one's health.

Understanding the effects of sedentary behaviour on your health is a great starting point and using fitness trackers will definitely help you to understand how active you have been during the course of the day but it's a holistic approach that's required. Focus on incorporating movement and light activity into otherwise sedentary activities and directly impact and increase your overall fitness and wellbeing.

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