Healthy lifestyle habits such as physical activity reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and other related health issues. One popular way to encourage physical activity is through the use of an activity tracker.
But this raises the question – does using an activity tracker help to increase physical activity and improve body composition?
Physical inactivity is one of the greatest contributors to conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and premature death. On the other hand, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of these conditions and their complications.
One popular activity tracker brands on the market is Fitbit. Fitbit trackers have a high validity for tracking steps, although they are low for energy expenditure and sleep.
Previous studies suggest that pedometers and activity trackers can contribute to higher physical activity. But researchers wanted to look deeper into using an activity tracker alongside an intervention to increase motivation in patients with type 2 diabetes.
A 3 month pilot randomised controlled trial was designed. 30 participants were recruited to take part.
The participants were adults between 18-90 years with stable type 2 diabetes and physical activity of less than 150 minutes per week. Those with renal failure and moderate chronic kidney disease (glomerular filtration rate <30ml/min) were excluded from the study.
The participants were assigned to one of two groups:
- A control group, which included a standard physical activity intervention supported by a kinesiologist
- An intervention group, which included the physical activity intervention and kinesiologist support, along with the addition of a Fitbit activity tracker.
Measurements were taken at baseline and after 3 months. They included cardiometabolic risk factors, physical activity and motivation. Anthropometric data taken included waist circumference, BMI and body fat percentage. In the intervention group, the satisfaction and acceptability of the tracker was also measured.
Physical activity increased in both groups, but the improvement was significantly greater in the intervention group.
HDL cholesterol increased in the intervention group, but decreased in the control group. Both groups saw decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and glycated haemoglobin.
There was a significant correlation between average steps per day and changes in waist circumference, BMI and body fat percentage in the intervention group.
86% of participants in the intervention group were satisfied with the activity tracker use, and their compliance was high.
The researchers concluded that use of an activity tracker did improve cardiometabolic risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes. They suggested activity trackers could be a useful motivation tool to increase physical activity in those who currently have low weekly physical activity levels.
Some limitations were noted. Only a small number of activity trackers were provided for the study, which meant the sample size was small. There were also some technical issues that prevented 4 of the participants’ data being accessible for the researchers. Some participants needed some additional support to be able to correctly utilise the activity tracker.
This study was also limited to participants with type 2 diabetes. It is not known whether non-diabetic populations would see similar results.
Larger scale studies are needed to assess how activity trackers can influence cardiometabolic risk factors through increased physical activity.
Pelletier, C., Gagnon, M.P., Alméras, N., Després, J.P., Poirier, P., Tremblay, A., Chabot, C. and Rhéaume, C., 2021. Using an activity tracker to increase motivation for physical activity in patients with type 2 diabetes in primary care: a randomized pilot trial. Mhealth, 7.