Life Wellbeing Healthy scepticism aside, study rates exercise apps as fit to be trusted

Healthy scepticism aside, study rates exercise apps as fit to be trusted

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If you’re thinking about lifting your fitness game you might be wondering whether smartphone fitness apps and wearable activity trackers really work.

Australian-led research into smartphone fitness apps and wearables show they do make a difference to physical activity.

Researchers reviewed data from 35 previous studies involving 7454 people, and found that fitness apps and wearables, such as FitBit and the Apple watch, offer a small to moderate boost to users.

The meta-analysis was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on December 22 and conducted by a team of scholars from the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, University of Technology Sydney and  the University of New South Wales.

The researchers pooled the data and found smartphone apps or activity trackers increased physical activity by an average of 1850 steps a day. Even a minor boost in physical activity can go a long way to increasing overall health.

From the Apple Watch to Fitbit, fitness trackers have taken off. But how effective are they? Photo: Getty

“Any intensity of physical activity substantially reduces risk of death,” they wrote.

More than a quarter of adults worldwide are “insufficiently active”, the researchers wrote, and “physical inactivity represents a leading cause of death worldwide”.

“The global pandemic of physical inactivity is responsible for at least $67.5 billion of economic burden per year,” they warned.

“Physical activity is essential to the prevention and treatment of multiple chronic conditions and can prevent premature mortality.”

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation released its first update of physical activity guidelines in a decade.

The guidelines highlight the risks of sedentary behaviour, and recommend that adults break up long periods of sitting by getting up and moving around regularly.

Smartphone prompts can help motivate

The most effective apps and fitness trackers included text-messaging involving prompts and cues, and tailored features, the researchers found.

Extra features such as goal-setting, planning, and tasks graded by degree of difficulty, were significantly associated with greater levels of effectiveness.

The research found apps that provide ongoing feedback to users were among the most beneficial.

“Interventions using smartphone apps or activity trackers seem promising from a clinical and public health perspective, promoting a significant step count increase of 1850 steps/day,” the researchers wrote.

“These results are of public health importance according to recent evidence showing that any physical activity, regardless of intensity, is associated with lower mortality risk in a dose – response manner and that an increase of 1700 steps/day is significantly associated with lower mortality rates.”