While the Apple Watch is one of the most popular fitness trackers, Apple has always been on tiptoe around the device’s usefulness as a weight loss tool. A new report from the Washington Post reviews recent research that indicates that wearing a fitness tracker like the Apple Watch “doesn’t necessarily motivate people to change their behavior.”
Can you lose weight with the Apple Watch? Experts intervene
The report outlines various research findings on how fitness trackers affect motivation, physical activity, and changes in things like weight and blood pressure. He refers to a study published in 2016 that focused on Fitbit. This study found that Fitbit users “maintained their physical activity slightly better than a control group without it”, but at one year it was “insufficient to cause changes in weight or blood pressure”.
John Jakicic, who studies obesity and weight management at the University of Kansas, said that Washington Post that products like the Apple Watch work on the assumption that “when you give people information, they do something to change their behavior.” In reality, this is not the case over long periods.
“Usually when we give people devices, it doesn’t change their behavior,” he says. “And if it does, it changes it for a very short period of time – maybe around 2-3 months, maybe a bit longer – before that thing on your wrist ends up in a drawer. or just stop caring.” ”
Jakicic helped lead one of the largest controlled studies of tracker technology, published by the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. It found that dieters who wore a generic activity tracker for 18 months lost less – yes, less – weight than those that did not. People wearing the devices also tended to move less.
Another theory in the report states that “the simple act of measuring your body could transform the psychological experience of being active.”
A 2016 study by Jordan Etkin of Duke University found that measurement can erode the “intrinsic motivation” of activities like walking, making it feel more like work and reducing continued engagement in the activity. “They can’t motivate you,” Etkin says.
We still don’t understand how they affect people in different ways. Some people with trackers energize themselves by competing with friends and family members to move the most. But for others, having their watch tell you they had a lazy day can contribute to self-sabotage. A 2017 study of teenagers found that stalkers negatively increased peer pressure and had a demoralizing effect.
The report also quotes Matt Buman of Arizona State University:
Gadgets alone “don’t provide the extra support needed for long-term, sustainable behavior change — things like social support or goal setting, demonstration of behaviors by other people like you, and planning shares”.
Gary Foster, scientific director of WeightWatchers, said about 40% of its members use fitness trackers for exercise data. However, the company saw no link between this use and weight loss results.
What this may say, Foster told me, is that wearing a tracker makes it easier to track your workouts.
But a fitness machine still can’t automate what Foster considers the most important piece of weight loss data: what you eat.
Bottom line, says Foster, “Tracking your activity will have little to no impact without this surround sound support on what to do with that information.”
In response to this story, Apple told the Washington Post that he “doesn’t do weight loss research because that’s not the goal of the Apple Watch.” However, he cited a 2018 study that found that people who were rewarded for achieving certain goals with their Apple Watch “had an average 34% increase in tracked activity days per month, and that remained after achieving the end of program”.
9to5Mac’s point of view
This story of Washington Post does a good job of synthesizing the different perspectives and studies in this area, but it is clear that we need more research on these topics. The Apple Watch has been around since 2015, but that’s not very long by academic and medical research standards.
Fitness is also just one factor in a person’s overall health. The Apple Watch is primarily about fitness tracking, which means it’s not the only reason a person’s health can get better or worse over time. Apple’s Health app aims to provide an overview of your health and provide data on the many other factors that contribute to your health besides fitness.
Still, I have some issues with the way the Apple Watch approaches fitness tracking. In particular, the focus on calories should be changed in my opinion. Research has already proven that these types of calorie estimates are grossly inaccurate and misleading.
The Apple Watch also doesn’t have built-in “day off” or “sleep” features. In my personal experience, this oversight is one of the biggest contributors to giving up on fitness goals. If you’ve closed your rings for 7 consecutive days, the Apple Watch should be smart enough to suggest a rest day. Instead, it bothers you to continue without context.
But more important is the fact that Apple hasn’t made any changes to the ring system since 2015. The system doesn’t need to be abandoned entirely, but there are ways to redesign certain aspects of the system. After all, it’s been almost a decade since the Apple Watch was first introduced.
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