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Just wearing a fitness tracker increases your step count - even if you never look at it

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PROVO, Utah— If you’re looking to walk more on a daily basis, consider wearing an activity tracker. A new study from Brigham Young University reveals that simply wearing one, even if you’re not looking at it, can increase the time you spend walking.

Specifically, the researchers report that subjects who wore an activity tracker took an average of 318 more steps per day than those who didn’t. Interestingly, this held true even when subjects weren’t working toward a particular physical goal or incentive, and even when they couldn’t see how many steps the pedometer was keeping.

“Humans are wired to react to what’s measured, because if it’s measured, it feels important,” Bill Tayler, study co-author and professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business, said in a statement. ‘university. “When people go to buy an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, of course it will affect their behavior; they got the device for the purpose of walking more. But it is helpful for individuals to know that even without trying, just being aware that something is following your steps increases your activity.

Of course, a little exercise can go a long way towards better health. The researchers say their work could prove useful to actors in the health sector or companies with a direct interest in public health. “If I was an insurance executive, I’d be interested to know that you can hand out basic fitness trackers to people, and as long as they put them on, they’ll walk more,” says Tayler.

Testing fitness trackers

To investigate how monitoring affects people’s step counts, the study authors developed an ingenious experiment design. “We wanted to know, in the absence of goals and incentives, does simple fitness tracking change behavior? Until this study, no one had convincingly shown what we have. shown – from an academic point of view, it turns out that this is a very difficult question to answer, ”continues Professor Tayler.

In order to establish that people tend to walk more when wearing a pedometer, researchers needed to know how long people walked before they had the activity tracker on. Where how many pedometer users walk compared to another randomly selected group of people who don’t. However, both of these scenarios require the use of a fitness tracker to achieve baseline metrics. To work around this problem, the researchers used the iPhone’s default step tracking feature.

“It was a bit of a sneaky way to get the data we needed,” adds Professor Tayler.

To begin, the researchers asked the 90 study participants to grant them permission to access the data on their smartphones. However, participants were not informed that their step counts from previous weeks were being recorded. This provided the aforementioned baseline metrics covering the distance participants walked when not actively monitored.

Some participants were then given screenless fitness trackers, while others were kept in the dark about the true purpose of the study. After two weeks, step count data was again accessed from the subjects’ iPhones.

“Measurement and tracking precede improvement,” adds BYU graduate Christian Tadje, who led the research as a student working with the Healthcare Industry Research Collaborative. “If you want something to improve – for example, a key performance indicator in the workplace or a personal health goal – our research shows you should consider tracking your progress.”

The study is published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.