The One Thing You Should Know Before You Start Using a Fitness Tracker

September 22nd 2016

Fitness trackers can create an incentive for you to exercise more frequently through personal and social accountability. But will they help you lose weight?

New research says maybe not.

Fitness trackers "may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches," according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers looked at 470 participants, who increased their exercise regimen and start eating a healthier diet. Six months into the study, half of the participants started wearing fitness trackers.

In the end, those who used fitness trackers lost less weight than the other half of the group.

The fitness tracker users may have lost less weight because of a widespread misconception.

Those who wore the trackers may have believed that increasing their exercise regimen meant they could eat a lot more food without consequences, the study's lead author John Jakicic told NPR. He added that missing daily fitness goals could also discourage people trying to slim down.

"These technologies are focused on physical activity, like taking steps and getting your heart rate up," Jakicic said. "People would say, 'Oh, I exercised a lot today, now I can eat more.' And they might eat more than they otherwise would have."

Fitness trackers are the most helpful to users who are already conscious of their fitness habits, said Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study but who researches fitness trackers, in an interview with NPR.

It's not uncommon for people to assume they can increase their calorie consumption simply because they are exercising.

"Too often, people overcompensate for exercise," exercise physiologist Mary Jane Detroyer told Fitness magazine. "That's one of the main reasons women don't get the weight loss results they anticipate."

Part of the issue is that some people don't eat after they exercise and wait until their next meal, at which point they are starving, Enette Larson-Meyer, an associate professor of human nutrition at the University of Wyoming, told Fitness.

You should increase your intake of food only modestly for every hour of exercise you complete, dietitian Nora Minno told Self magazine:

"For about every hour of exercise you do each day, I would recommend adding about 200 to 250 calories to your diet post-workout. Make sure you're getting in good-quality protein and complex carbohydrates."

Fitness trackers include such devices as Fitbits, Jawbones, Apple watches and Nike bands.

For its part, the maker of Fitbit told NPR:

"We are confident in the positive results users have seen from the Fitbit platform, including our wearable devices," the company said in a statement, adding that researchers use Fitbits and similar devices in clinical studies.

Read the full story about fitness trackers over at NPR.

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