Fitbits, Apple Watches and Other Fitness Trackers Really Do Make You Healthier | Mint – Mint

It’s time to dust off that fitness band or smartwatch and start tracking your activity again.
Clocking your steps and other fitness metrics really does result in more physical activity, recent studies show. And when families track their activity, it gets them out walking together and encourages them to set collective goals.
The shame is, this research landed only after fitness trackers and smartwatches began to fall out of fashion. Fitness band sales have been in decline for the past five years, despite a brief resurgence early in the pandemic, according to market research firm Circana. Many people replaced their fitness bands with smartwatches, but even shipments of those fell 9% in North America in the last quarter, says Counterpoint Research.
I stopped wearing my Fitbit a long time ago. I forgot to keep it charged and now I don’t even know where the charger is. The old model was limited in the metrics it displayed. I could learn a lot more about my hikes—the equivalent flights of stairs I’d climbed and the steadiness of my gait on rocky terrain—by holding my iPhone.
For others, perhaps they became bored with completing abstract goals or dismayed by the myth of 10,000 steps.
“One day you forget to put it back on your wrist after charging it and you lose your winning streak,” says Eddie Hold, president of connected intelligence at Circana.
But we all need to put them back on this fall as work demands accelerate and school is back in session. This time of year, it’s easy to lose track of our exercise and wellness routines.
Step it up
There’s been widespread skepticism in the scientific and medical community about whether fitness trackers can improve health, said researchers from the University of South Australia. So they conducted a study of 39 systematic reviews involving nearly 164,000 participants of all ages.
The result, published last year: When people wore wearables, they on average increased their daily step counts by 1,800—and boosted their daily walking time by 40 minutes.
Fitness trackers are in fact effective in helping people lose weight, increase their aerobic activity and lower their blood pressure, the researchers concluded.
Just the practice of tracking steps can make you think more about health and adopt healthier habits, according to a clinical trial in which participants wore Apple Watches for five weeks.
And in a six-week study in Australia, when parents and their kids all wore Garmin activity trackers, they became more aware of everyone’s physical activity and inactivity. They were also more motivated to do outdoor activities together.
Making it work
Despite the overall success, getting families to make a long-term habit out of fitness tracking can be a challenge. Researchers in the U.K. gave Fitbits to 24 families with kids between the ages of 5 and 9 for four weeks. The families’ Fitbit use was high in the beginning, but fell off in the final two weeks. The novelty wore off.
To ensure the success of wearables in your family, you can set goals, introduce friendly competition and participate in challenges.
Here are some devices and features that can help:
• Garmin offers a Toe-to-Toe app that works with many of its adult watches as well as with its Bounce and Vivofit Jr. models for kids. The app allows kids to compete in step competitions with friends or parents who have compatible watches.
Families can see their kids’ activity with the Garmin Jr. app. Parents can manage family challenges through the adult Garmin Connect app.
• Fitbit has two fitness trackers for kids. The Ace 3, designed for ages 6 to 12, gives kids badges for moving and reminds them to stretch when they’ve been sitting still for too long. (Parents can create a Fitbit family account to see their child’s metrics on the Fitbit app.)
The Inspire 3 is aimed at teens and adults, with more advanced features including heart-rate variability, period tracking and stress management. Families can create private groups within the Fitbit app to cheer on or compete with one another.
• Apple allows families to share Activity rings—those loops on Apple Watches that close every time you reach your daily exercise, standing and movement goals. You can receive notifications of family members’ progress and send messages of encouragement. You can also invite family members to engage in weeklong competitions and earn points based on the percentage of Activity rings you close.
For kids without iPhones, parents can set up Apple Watches using Family Setup. Kids can use the Activity app to meet their goals and can allow their parents to view their daily activity from the Health app.
With WatchOS 10, expected later this month, the device’s ambient light sensor will track how much time the wearer spends in daylight. The feature will be available on Apple Watch Series 6 and higher, as well as the Apple Watch SE, the model worn most by young kids.
At a time when people aren’t getting enough exercise and a lack of outdoor time is fueling an epidemic of myopia, perhaps it’s time everyone in the house started tracking together.
—For Family & Tech columns, advice and answers to your most pressing family-related technology questions, sign up for my weekly newsletter.
Write to Julie Jargon at Julie.Jargon@wsj.com
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