LIFESTYLE

Fitness Trackers That Count Steps 'Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good'

Getting 10,000 steps per day may not be the way forward.

21/02/2017 10:17 | Updated 21 February 2017

If you’re trying to improve your fitness counting the steps you do each day using a fitness tracker or health app could seem like a good place to start. 

But a leading expert has warned obsessing about getting that golden ‘10,000 steps’ per day may not be improving your health.

In fact, Dr Greg Hager, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, believes this monitoring technology could be doing “more harm than good”.

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Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Dr Hager said “very few” of the health apps available are based on scientific evidence.  

“Some of you might wear Fitbits or something equivalent, and I bet every now and then it gives you that cool little message: ‘You did 10,000 steps today’. But why is 10,000 steps important? What’s big about 10,000?” he said, according to Sky News.

“Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number.”

Dr Hager went on to condemn the one-size-fits-all fitness plans some apps promote, saying following the apps could “amplify issues” for some users.

For example, he pointed out that not everyone will be capable of completing 10,000 steps per day if they have an underlying health issue, but the apps won’t necessarily address this. In addition, we may be failing to complete exercises relevant to our personal needs while fixating on the 10,000 steps. 

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful,” he said.

Dr Hager is not the first to question the benefits of fitness trackers.

A 2016 study involving 800 participants found that wearing a fitness tracker or pedometer did not improve users’ health, even when they were given cash incentives to complete more steps. 

“We found no evidence that the device promoted weight loss or improved blood pressure or cardiorespiratory fitness, either with or without financial incentives”, said lead author Professor Eric Finkelstein from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

“While there was some progress early on, once the incentives were stopped, volunteers did worse than if the incentives had never been offered, and most stopped wearing the trackers.”

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