The healthy lifestyle market has become a big moneymaker, and no product is more emblematic of this expansion than Fitbit, which is now a publicly traded company. More power to it! If people are willing to shell out at least $60 for a pedometer (but realistically more than $100), Fitbit must be doing something right.
But people will pay for anything -- the real question is, does it make a difference? Does owning a Fitbit actually help you get healthier?
It doesn't matter if you walk 10,000 steps a day
That magic step-count number you'll walk circles in your bedroom until 11:59pm to reach is arbitrary. It's a nice, round number, but there's not much evidence 10,000 is significantly better than 9,000, or much worse than 11,000.
Obviously, movement is going to benefit you, especially moving more than you already do. You could make a pretty sweet paper doll collection out of all the studies warning you how bad it is to sit too much. But if you're going on 10,000 steps, you should know that the number came from pedometers sold in Japan during the 1960s. They were called "manpo-kei," which means "10,000 steps meter." And they were a hit!
Subsequent research backed up the theory that increasing activity levels to 10,000 steps per day has health benefits, but most sedentary people would see improved health after getting more active, regardless of the activity. It's not the number that bestows health on you.
Fitness trackers don't help people lose weight
OK, sure, the number of steps you walk doesn't matter so much, but achieving 10,000 steps each day isn't necessarily the goal. Maybe you simply want to drop a few pounds, and figure the extra motivation of owning a fitness tracker and having fun, if ultimately meaningless, numbers to hit can't hurt, right?
Wrong! Researchers wanted to know whether wearable fitness trackers like Fitbits, helped people lose weight compared to other behavioral weight-loss techniques, and the short answer is: They don't. In fact, participants who wore fitness trackers during the study lost less weight over two years than those who didn't. Both groups were given six months of low-calorie diets, increased physical activity, and counseling; both groups then had access to telephone and text support for six months. After that, they were divided into two groups, one with fitness trackers and one without, and despite the fact that everyone had undergone diet, exercise, and psychological treatment, the fitness trackers failed to help people drop extra pounds. So you're better off spending your money on vegetables, or putting it toward a gym membership.
There are better sources of fitness recommendations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t think in step counts when developing guidelines to keep Americans healthy, unfortunately for the fitness-tracking industry.
Here's what they do say: “Adults need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).”
Fitbits and other activity trackers become unnecessary when you realize that the base recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of brisk walking over the course of seven days. All you need is a watch to track that. When you add in the fact that you need to be incorporating strength training into your weekly routine -- which most activity trackers aren’t equipped to track (or do so in a clunky way) -- the effort to achieve 10,000 steps seems even more Sisyphean.