Is your fitness tracker really helping you?

Wearable fitness trackers are extremely popular, with new models and brands flooding the market. Doctors, professors and researchers, however, are questioning whether the devices help people improve their health and lose weight.

This doesn't mean you should stop using your Fitbit or other tracker, but it does reveal some important information about the effects it may or may not have on your health.

Do people continue to use their device and do they receive enough information?

One study gave groups of people a Fitbit Zip and offered incentives to use it. When participants stopped receiving incentives, just 10 percent of people from all groups continued to use it. In addition, the groups that received cash incentives to take more steps actually saw a decrease in their activity levels when the study was over.

The results of this study did not reveal evidence that people increased their activity in the short term or that simply increasing steps has effects on health in the intermediate term.

The lead researcher said lack of new information about their activity level resulted in people giving up on the device. Many newer models provide more information about the user's activity and health, however, and may be better suited to improving overall physical health.

Fitness trackers and weight loss

Another study by the University of Pittsburgh looked at fitness trackers' effect on weight loss. Researchers followed 471 people for two years, providing them with weight loss counseling as well as diet and exercise regimens. Six months into the study, half of the people received a fitness tracker. Surprisingly, the study's results showed that the people who used the fitness tracker lost less weight than the other group.

As with the Fitbit Zip study, the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh determined that many people simply don't use the trackers for very long; many people give up after three to six months.

The human element is key

Whether a person commits to long-term use of fitness trackers and a change in eating habits seems to be a crucial factor in whether they improve overall health. Realistically, any increase in activity combined with a lower-calorie diet will likely result in weight loss and improved health. You don't have to rely on a fitness tracker to accomplish this, but if it motivates you, then use it. And if it doesn't, that's okay. You can find other ways to stay healthy that work for you.

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