Wearable fitness technology; essential tech for the fitness savvy user, or just the latest fashion accessory that it’s cool to be seen wearing? With Christmas upon us, it is inevitable that many a Fitbit, Garmin, Apple iWatch or the like will be being unwrapped in many households, but are they worth the expense?

The following statistics may seem to suggest that the whole world has gone fitness crazy with wearable fitness tech usage increasing exponentially in recent years:

  • According to a recent report by IDTechEx, the wearable technology market was worth over $50 billion in 2019. This means that the market doubled in size since 2014.
  • Research study by Allied Market Research claims that by 2023, the market for global fitness trackers will reach $62.128 million, growing at the CAGR of 19.6%.
  • According to Statista, the revenue from the top 10 fitness and healthcare apps increased by 61% last year to reach a smashing $327 million globally. Moreover, the number of fitness app users is expected to surpass 353 million by 2022.
  • Note that health and fitness apps show the highest retention rate across all of the app categories. In fact, according to Flurry, 96% of users use only one health and fitness app. This means that once they start using it, they easily become dedicated to it.
  • According to a study by Statista, the total number of wearable users connected to the 4G network in 2017 was 526 million. In 2022, this number is expected to reach 900 million active users. This suggests that wearable fitness gadgets such as wristbands or smartwatches are going to become a life necessity for many consumers.

A marketers dream no less, and one which shows no sign of easing off in the coming years. With new variations and suppliers saturating the market, the choice now seems not to be whether to invest or not, but which brand to use! With many manufacturers’ ranges covering the full spectrum of price and features (particularly Fitbit), there’s a fit watch for every need and budget from the simple pedometer to heart rate monitors, GPS trackers and sleep monitors; the modern smart watch covers all the bases. However, is all this information at our fingertips (or rather wrists) really necessary or for that matter accurate?

As you would expect, as price rises so too does the accuracy and added features, but the majority of users are unlikely to use the top of the range items, nor do they need to, and so may be left with data that is in fact relatively inaccurate and of little real world use. Many users pay top dollar for added features that they will never use or in some cases do not fully understand (once again, clever marketing). The use of heart rate on wrist worn tech is nowhere near as accurate as those that use chest straps to monitor pulse rate and hence calorie burn cannot be predicted with any real level of accuracy either. Calorie burn during exercise is only really relevant to continuous exercise such as jogging/running since a watch is unable to detect the rest periods during a weights session when the heart rate will continue to be raised, so it can be sen that accuracy can be an issue.

That being said, I believe that there is a place for the fitness tracker in the everyday exercisers’ kitbag/wrist. Regardless of accuracy, it can be motivational to try and reach your chosen number of steps or beat the previous days’ total and this can only contribute to the NEAT portion of your total daily energy expenditure (see earlier blog). As long as the ‘inaccuracy’ remains constant then you still have a record of improvement and a target to aim for. Many watches allow you to link up with friends, or users may post daily totals on social media which all helps to increase accountability which in turn may boost motivation. Many of the apps which accompany trackers include challenges, wellbeing/health tips and recipes helping the user attain their fitness goals and even create a sense of community within a brand, the ‘we’re in this together’ mentality which can be extremely beneficial, particularly for those new to exercise.

So, do the average activity tracking devices give scientifically accurate data with which to micromanage our fitness regimes? No, but then again the average user has no need for this level of information. Do they add fun, motivation and perhaps even a sense of belonging to the user? Definitely, and it is for this reason that I believe that fitness trackers do have a place in the fitness industry, albeit perhaps not to the extent that marketers would have us believe, we did exercise perfectly well before they were around after all!

Track, don’t track, the choice is yours, just keep moving and enjoy your exercise!

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I am a fully qualified Personal Trainer with over 22 years’ experience. Find out more about my specific training and qualifications or book a personal training session.

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