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Are Fitness Trackers Really Effective? The Surprising Truth

Fitness trackers are wearable technology that help you keep tabs on everyday health metrics — how far you walk or run, the number of calories you burn, and even the details of your sleep cycle.

These devices may be popular, but do they actually help improve your health?

Fitness trackers can be beneficial — when used effectively. They can be helpful to people who want to track progress toward a goal such as running a race or losing weight. For others, they may be just a fashionable accessory.

RELATED: You’ve Got a Fitness Tracker — Now What?

“Walking 10,000 steps a day is a great start, but what most of us really need to lose some weight or improve conditioning,” says James Dewar, MD, of Bloomfield-Garfield Family Health Center-UPMC.

Find a UPMC primary care physician by visiting the UPMC Primary Care website or by calling 1-855-676-UPMCPCP (8762-727).

Fitness trackers can produce the so-called “health halo.” Just owning and wearing the device can give people the false sense that they are healthier.

For example, if you walk 10,000 steps in a day and then reward yourself with a piece of cake, you’ve actually consumed more calories than you intended to eat.

One research study showed that people who wore a fitness tracker ended up gaining weight.

So, what can you do to stay healthy with a fitness tracker?

  • Set daily goals appropriate to your lifestyle, rather than using the preset ones.
  • Increase the amount of activity you get instead of counting your steps.
  • If you have a fitness tracker, wear it at all times to help provide an accurate reading of your progress.
  • Create your profile and make sure that you are calibrating your device to your body.
  • Connect your fitness tracker to various apps that work together for your health.
  • Use the tracker’s social features to connect with people who have similar goals.

“Connecting with others can make it easier to keep up your lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Dewar.