A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 randomized clinical trials shows that using activity trackers produces some health benefit, but primarily when combined with coaching.
According to U.K. researchers writing online Oct. 9 in JAMA Network Open, the devices produce statistically significant small and medium-sized improvements in health—such as lowering blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body weight and body mass index—but primarily in the short-term.
Studies in recent years have produced conflicting results on the benefits of activity trackers, so researchers, led by Alexander Hodkinson, Ph.D., of the University of Manchester, sought clarity from the published literature. The final analysis included of 4,856 patients with cardiometabolic conditions—diabetes, prediabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The final analysis included 20 studies on the use of accelerometers and 16 on pedometers. Of these, 32 trials showed "medium" improvements in physical activty in studies that followed patients over short and medium time spans of up to 32 weeks.
They found that the frequency of physical activity improved when patients met one-on-one with coaching consultants. These interactions led to "significant" small to medium improvements in physical activity frequency, but it's not enough, the authors stated.
"People with cardiometabolic conditions have demonstrated encouraging results, but levels of physical activity remain below the targets set by clinical recommendations," the authors wrote.
More studies are needed to determine if improvements in health continue long-term and if so, whether the improvements are signiciant.
But one thing is certain: coaching helps. "This study found no evidence that simple self-monitored interventions using either pedometers or accelerometers are associated with improvements in physical activity," the authors wrote.
Sales for fitness activity trackers have skyrocketed in recent years. MobileHealthNews.com reports that the global revenue for smartphone-connected fitness tracking devices and equipment will close in 2019 at $5.4 billion, which is up from $2 billion in 2014.
Alexander Hodkinson, PhD; Evangelos Kontopantelis, PhD; Charles Adeniji, MD; et al. "Accelerometer- and Pedometer-Based Physical Activity Interventions Among Adults With Cardiometabolic Conditions A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." JAMA Network Open. Oct. 9, 2019. DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12895