Are Fitness Gadgets Bad For You? Research Hints At Negative Outcomes

While the health benefits of fitness gadgets are well-known, new research now suggests that they may also adversely impact people’s well-being.

While the health benefits of fitness gadgets are undeniable, new research now suggests that they may also adversely impact people’s well-being in ways that have not been widely documented. Over the past several years, fitness apps and gadgets promising to help users better track their health and wellness routines have mushroomed worldwide. It is now a major industry all by itself, with players like Google, Apple, Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit being some of the more significant players.

With a myriad of gadgets, apps, and services jostling for users’ attention, there has never been a better time to consider getting into shape or embracing a healthier lifestyle. For most people, that will involve jogging, cycling, swimming, or trying to hit those recommended 10,000 steps per day. Technology like smartwatches and fitness trackers can often come in handy for tracking workout routines, and there are also a plethora of apps and services that promise to help. However, using technology for health tracking may have unintended negative consequences that users need to watch out for.

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According to new research by Eoin Whelan, a senior lecturer in business information systems at the National University of Ireland, fitness apps and gadgets can become obsessions for some people, leading to negative mental health consequences. The most problematic aspects of these apps are the social sharing features that often create unhealthy competition among users, leading to anxiety and emotional stress if someone else’s data shows better results. Users also often simply give up on their fitness goals because the numbers aren’t showing progress.

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Are Fitness Gadgets Bad For You? Research Hints At Negative Outcomes

Talking to CNN about his research, Whelan said that people often use fitness apps for the wrong reasons. Instead of trying to improve their fitness levels, people using fitness trackers are often comparing themselves to others who are fitter than them, and “ultimately we know that makes them feel bad.”  Another unexpected finding of the research was that people who are overly reliant on their smartwatches or fitness bands would often skip their training sessions altogether if the batteries on their fitness tracking device were dead. He even cited cases of athletes who struggle to say how they slept last night without looking at their data.

The research also found that constant use of smartwatches and fitness trackers adds to the overall screen-time for users and results in additional negative impacts on their mental and physical health. As noted by CNN, research has linked excessive screen-time to headaches, disrupted sleep patterns and various other issues, all of which are often exacerbated because of the constant use of technology.

Another research by professors Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen linked constant notifications and alerts to increased stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, depression, and other mental and physical issues. According to Prof. Rosen, constant interactions with technology releases “more stress and anxiety chemicals,” which results in various psychological and physical health issues. He advised setting “screen-free” time, whereby users take a 15-30 minute break from technology during which they don’t check their phones or use the computer. Doing so will go a long way towards reducing anxiety and improving users’ mental health, he said.

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Source: Emerald Insight, CNN, Behavioral Scientist

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