Fitness Depends on You, Not Tech

By Staff Writers Gloria Chang & Stephanie Dutra

Fitness technology has the potential to further progress the health and exercising habits of a person, but without motivation and commitment to fitness regimens, the technology falls short of its purpose.

The most advanced fitness technology for consumers includes easily-accessible mobile apps and wearable monitoring devices that provide a diverse array of beneficial functions. Trackers produced by popular companies such as Fitbit and UP are wristbands that are worn throughout the day and measure the steps taken, hours slept, calories eaten, and more metrics, displaying them as a graph on the user’s smartphone. The newfound awareness of their overall health helps users to get started.

Apps, like MyFitnessPal, help assess food intake and exercise to balance the number of calories the user should consume based on their fitness goal. Other accessible trackers include ones such as the tracker built into Apple’s iPhone, which tracks the number of steps taken every day. Even apps not fully focused on fitness, such as Pokémon Go, motivate non-athletes to walk or run extended distances so they could earn rewards, including hatching eggs and catching new Pokémon.

Different technologies appeal to different types of people, but they all present the same end-goal: to engage users. Fitness trackers and accelerators will best help committed athletes or people with a constant workout routine analyze their movements. Some of the technologies integrate a social aspect by encouraging comparison amongst friends, thus fueling the competitive user. Across the entire market of fitness technology, various trackers have some type of virtual reward system, for achieving a certain number of steps per day, exercising for multiple days in a row, lowering body weight, or improving mile-run times.

The main appeal of fitness technology is to aid in achieving a healthy and fit lifestyle, but it is difficult to attain results without personal motivation. Devices may not give perfectly accurate data, but their short-term motivational properties, like daily reminders and virtual awards, lead them to become best-sellers in the fitness and tech industry. Purchasing a tracker and using it initially provides a temporary motivation to perform to one’s best ability. Whether that enthusiasm continues after the first few months depends on the person.

A study by research firm Endeavor Partners found that one-third of fitness tracker consumers abandoned it within the first six months, while a study by Obesity Society found that trackers could replace counseling in a weight-loss program. The discrepancy between those studies is likely due to the behavioral tendencies of individual users. If those who already exercise and eat well purchase a fitness tracker, it aids their fitness journey. However, beginners trying to start a healthy lifestyle will become bored of the device after its novelty fades and noticeable results are not attained immediately. Fitness technology assists short sprints towards mentally-designed, physical goals, instead of serving as the sole motivator that will transform one’s lifestyle.

Often, fitness tech is bought for its fashionable appeal. Advertisements display attractive, toned models wearing colorful exercise outfits and enjoying themselves on a sunny beach. As a result, consumers buy the tracking devices, in hopes of buying the same advertised lifestyle together as a package. These marketing methods follow the same psychology as purchasing a pair of Nike Jordans that basketball stars sponsor — not for playing basketball, but to appear “cool” and basketball-savvy. Following a fitness fad will not immediately improve appearance or health, yet a tracker’s mere presence on a wrist may provide temporary motivation. A purchaser must evaluate their personal commitment to an altered lifestyle and whether the device will be useful long-term.

Motivation and discipline are core traits to fitness technology users, but there is no quintessential user. The myriad of activities individuals may engage in leads to multiple, often contrasting, paths. Intense weight-lifting demands high caloric intake to build muscle bulk, while slow jogging encourages consuming a low number of calories to remain slim. Their methods of remaining fit and using trackers are different, as are their goals. “The successful use and potential health benefits related to these devices depend more on the design of the engagement strategies than on the features of their technology,” said Mitesh S. Patel, M.D., M.B.A., M.S. and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in the medical journal JAMA. If seeing one’s improved body and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin is not mentally stimulating enough, technology engages, using rewards and achievements as an entertaining push. These fitness trackers remain a great supplement to workout routines and monitoring one’s lifestyle, but ultimately, it is up to the individual, not the machine, to push himself or herself forward.

Graphic by Staff Writer Gloria Chang

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