Can exercise tracker devices help increase physical activity?


Lucy Corbett is in the fifth year of her B Science/ B Education at the University of Sydney and is completing her honours in Education. Lucy’s thesis aims to explore the potential motivational impact wearable activity trackers have on adolescent’s motivation for physical activity.

Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit, Jawbone. Recently there has been a proliferation of physical activity trackers marketed for commercial use. Television advertising campaigns for these devices, such as Fitbit’s “Find your fit”, and widespread availability of these devices signify the integration of activity trackers into the mainstream consumer market.

Physical activity trackers offer an interactive analysis of health measures such as steps, caloric expenditure and active minutes. Physical activity monitoring is important beyond the benefits to an individual user. Data and motivational properties can be used in the development of company or school policies and programs to increase an individual’s physical activity levels and reduce the problem of non-communicable diseases. Wearable activity trackers such as Fitbits have the potential to create widespread practical application due to their low cost and ease of use. Despite these benefits, there is currently limited research focused on these devices and whether they influence an individual’s motivation for physical activity or if they are simply another gimmick in the “fitness fashion trend” that is taking over the world? The aim of my thesis is to determine the effect physical activity trackers have on the motivation of adolescent girls for physical activity.

Physical inactivity is a major problem in today’s society and is now identified as the fourth leading cause of mortality worldwide. Inactivity is a major contributor to the increasing prevalence of obesity, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and cancer. Inactivity levels are rising with major correlations to the rise of non-communicable diseases and the general health of the population. Positive physical activity behaviour developed in childhood correlates with higher levels of physical activity in adulthood. Therefore, it is important for young people to maintain a healthy level of physical activity in school years. Currently, within Australia, approximately only 60% of adolescents achieve the recommended amount of activity. As individuals progress from adolescence into adulthood, the level and intensity of activity decreases with age. As a nation we need to become more physically active. If wearable activity trackers effectively increase motivation and can be used in activity programs or for the development of broader social policies, they will be. We just need to determine whether they work as a motivational tool.

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