Fitness Trackers and The Promise of Health

Technological innovation, and the promise of making manual jobs obsolete. Including jobs like personal trainers that is. There is no doubt that some time in the future, technology would have advanced so far that a machine can scan your body, then device the most optimal diet and training regimen for you at that particular moment to ensure you reach your optimum fitness goal. That day has not arrived yet.

Its interesting that when the “fitness revolution” was first launched by fitbit and the likes, early data was very promising. Promising enough that even insurance companies would give discounts for people that uses fitness trackers. However, more recent studies have showed that on average, people that wore fitness trackers actually lost less weight than those who don’t on an average basis. So what happened?

Garbage In, Garbage Out


As my statistics professor once said, if you feed bad data in, you will only get bad data as result, i.e. “garbage in, garbage out”. In this case, the early generation fitness trackers, these devices can only count on how many steps you take. I.e. they are basically high tech pedometer, no different than what our parents used.

In the 1960’s the Japanese company that invented the modern pedometer basically made this theory that if you took 10,000 steps a day, then you would be healthy. No actual solid research was used to draw this conclusion, it was simply something they used to market their product. Although modern research does prove that higher level of mobility (anywhere from 5000 to 8000 steps depending on your gender and age) is good for you, the comparison has always been with those that have sedentary lifestyle.

Hence it seems that the early positive result could be due to mostly health conscious people using the earlier generation product or getting people that are very sedentary to start becoming more mobile.

Joint Damage

918_Knee_InjuryMostmay not realize this, but overweight people that spent most of their lives sitting should not be forced to suddenly take too many steps. The additional weight they have will simply cause their joints to wear out faster. The lifelong habit of sitting also tend to make some overweight people to have inefficient walking gait. Due to these two concerns, forcing them to suddenly walk certain distance will increase their risk of developing joint damage on the knees and ankles, and once these joints are damaged, the wearer will inadvertently walk less, hence loosing the initial gains from more mobile lifestyle.

Metabolic Conditioning


Qualified personal trainers all knows that there are two ways for you to burn calories, one while you exercise, and the other is while you do everything else. The everything else part of the equation is more than three times that of what you burn while exercising. Hence it makes sense that you should concentrate more on the later part. You could increase your base line metabolism level (i.e. basalt metabolism) by either developing bigger muscles, or by doing High Impact Interval Training (i.e. HIIT). Both methods will increase your basalt metabolism level anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after you train. And neither of them can be detected with previous generation fitness device.

Any Hope For Future Generation Fitness Trackers?

Even the previous generation fitness generation can function as a glorified interval counter that will remind you to stand up and do a little bit of stretching if you have been sitting for too long. And as an advocate for Dr. McGill’s spine hygine, this is a very good function. Newer generation fitness trackers can already measure your heart beat, hence it can be used as an accessory while you do your HIIT training. Of course, when you do HIIT, be mindful on your joint alignments, having rest days and your choice of activity as you will be subjected to higher risk of injury otherwise.


Fitness trackers can definitely be used as part of the larger solution to make people be more active and healthy. However, its still just part of the equation and it should not be used as the main solution to your problem.

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