Do Fitbits Make you Fit?
The short answer is probably not. Fitbits, iwatches and other wearable technology have their pros and cons.
The Things I Like About Wearable Tech
This is totally awesome. We can literally wake up a hundred times a night and not remember it. This is called sleep apnea, and it’s exhausting and leads to obesity (due to the hormonal disruptions that occur when we do not sleep).
Devices can show us if we’ve been sleeping or restless. Iphones and sleep apps can also do this.
That’s coaching lingo for motivating people with competition. With wearable devices you can compete with your friends from afar (in walking, sleeping, activity, etc. ) Some people like winning more than they like sitting on their butts.
Some devices can be set to buzz if you’ve been sitting still for too long. That might help some people.
Overall, wearable devices get people at least paying attention to something health-related so for some, that’s a step in the right direction. Now let’s talk about some of the limitations to wearable fitness tech.
Walking vs. Any Other Activity
Devices track and encourage walking. But walking is hardly exercise. It doesn’t challenge the body to adapt, or burn many calories.
Every time I hear someone tell me (brag) about how many steps they got, I just think to myself, “What a waste of time.”
Instead of walking home from work, I’d rather you drive home, and with the 30 minutes you save, go and crush some deadlifts and sprints. You’ll have stronger bones, less fat, and a healthier heart.
The exceptions to my position about walking:
- Walking is beneficial if you are too injured to do anything else.
- Walking is beneficial in the overweight and obese populations since from a pure physics standpoint, they are moving a lot of mass around, which is great exercise.
- Walking may be a starting point for building fitness habits and tendon strength.
Estimated Exercise Calorie Expenditure
Devices say they can do this, but they are absolutely terrible at estimating caloric expenditure. I feel this is where devices do more harm than good. They basically tell people they can eat more calories.
How Do Wearable Fitness Devices Estimate Calories?
It’s based on a crude math equation that factors in your age, gender, height, and sometimes activity level. Buuuuut….. this equation cannot take into account these important factors:
- insulin resistance
- history of obesity
- muscle mass
To illustrate how caloric needs (metabolisms) can be, let’s compare two men who are similar in the factors that devices account for.
- 35 years old
- six feet tall
- 250 lbs
- and train hard about four times a week.
First we have a security guard with a history of obesity and a body fat percentage in the mid-thirties. He only needs about 1200 calories a day (shockingly low, but I saw it with my own eyes). Compare that to an NFL linebacker in the offseason who would need about 3200 calories a day (almost three times as much). As you can see, to accurately figure out your caloric needs, it requires a metabolic lab or a skilled professional like me. As of 2016, a fitness device cannot tell you how much you need to eat.
Wanna see some research to back up my claim? Here is a weight loss study where 1000 people received the same nutrition coaching, but half of the people also received a fitness device. And guess what happened? The folks who got the wearable device lost less weight.
I’m assuming it’s because the devices over-estimated the person’s caloric needs. And thus they ate more food than they needed to, and thus lost less weight! Fitness devices usually over-estimate the calories you need.
Wearable devices can be fun but don’t pay any attention to the calories they say you burn. If you’re looking to spend money on your health, I’d suggest a training session that gets you a brand new program, or a cooking class, or a bunch of classes at a new gym you want to try. Your smartphone may also be able to do some of the things your device can do.