Written on November 23, 2022 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Medical care, like going to your healthcare provider’s office, is estimated to account for only 10-20% of the modifiable contributors to healthy outcomes for a population. The other 80-90% are health-related behaviors, socioeconomic factors, and environmental factors .
Therefore, the choices you make, such as using a fitness tracker, can have a greater impact on outcomes than seeing your healthcare provider.
Just five years ago, if you asked, “can fitness trackers improve heart health?,” there was very little evidence to answer the question. However, today the body of evidence is growing rapidly. While results are encouraging, the data is still far from definitive, and certain disparities need attention.
The wearable fitness trackers market is projected to reach $192 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 17.5% .
One of the selling points of the global fitness tracker market is that many wearable devices can help users get healthy and stay healthy.
A fitness tracker, usually in the form of a wristwatch, tracks various metrics related to health and exercise. Most fitness trackers can monitor your daily step count, calories burned, miles walked, and heart rate.
Fitness trackers store information on their company's website and app by connecting to a compatible smartphone via Bluetooth. Users may visit to view more accurate representations of the data collected by the device.
However, they should not be confused with true "medical devices” .
A medical device, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is one "intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." Wearable medical devices perform functions like monitoring blood pressure (hypertension), measuring glucose levels (diabetes), and helping with pain management .
Let's take a look at what is in the medical literature with regard to the impact fitness trackers are having on heart health.
We will discuss the findings from two large systematic meta-analyses that summarize empirical studies and then examine a study that addresses disparities in fitness tracker access, adoption, and usage.
Scientists at the University of Southern Australia report a connection between wearable activity trackers, exercising more, and losing weight. In total, 39 systematic reviews and meta-analyses were identified, reporting results from 163,992 participants from 390 experimental studies, spanning all age groups, from both healthy and clinical populations.
The studies spanned a wide variety of subpopulations (populations with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, COPD, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, musculoskeletal pain, and Parkinson's disease) and a wide range of age groups from across the lifespan.
The study finds these tracking devices encourage people to walk up to 40 minutes more per day (roughly 1,800 more steps). This results in an average weight loss of 2.2 pounds over the course of five months.
While beneficial overall, some studies in the meta-analysis found tracker ineffectiveness and inaccuracy. They also question whether or not they contribute to unhealthy obsessive behaviors and eating disorders .
The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to estimate the effect physical activity monitor (PAM) interventions have on physical activity, moderate and vigorous physical activity, and sedentary time compared with control interventions in which the participants did not receive feedback from PAMs.
Researchers found that on average, using PAMs led participants to take an extra 1,235 steps per day and do 49 additional minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. They also stood for an extra 10 minutes per day, although that amount wasn’t significant .
So far we’ve described the emerging evidence that fitness trackers can improve physical activity — a corollary for heart health.
However, the literature about wearables reflects a lack of diversity in studies to examine health outcomes. Access to digital health technologies in lower-income households lags behind middle and upper-income households when it comes to wearables.
Improved access to digital infrastructure, devices, and fitness trackers in diverse communities is necessary to avoid the risk of a digital divide and creating yet another social determinant of health.
To examine this disparity, we turn to the following study: Wearable fitness tracker use in federally qualified health center patients: strategies to improve the health of all of us using digital health devices.
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health All of Us program. The program welcomes participants from all backgrounds and aims to reflect the rich diversity of the United States by enrolling people from communities that are historically underrepresented in biomedical research, such as racial and ethnic minority groups and those with limited access to medical care.
Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) provide preventive care, including health, oral, and mental health/substance abuse services. They provide necessary care to medically underserved and vulnerable populations, including the uninsured and those living below the poverty level.
The researchers surveyed 1007 adult patients at FQHCs regarding wearable fitness trackers. Of the adults surveyed, 39% identified as Hispanic, 36% as non-Hispanic Black or African American, and 15% as non-Hispanic White.
Findings indicate that the majority are interested in having fitness trackers. Barriers included cost and lack of information, revealing that education and investment are necessary.
Almost three-quarters identified as cis-gender women (71%), 14% had less than a 9th-grade education, 45% had completed high school, and participants were evenly divided across age groups.
The surveys were administered in English (68%) and Spanish (32%). The primary outcome was whether participants would like a fitness tracker, and overall 58% responded “yes,” 20% “no,” and 23% did not answer .
As you can see, fitness trackers are demonstrating positive effects on physical activity, thereby improving heart health. However, more attention needs to be given to underserved populations.
Going beyond the fitness tracker, Everlywell offers several products/tests that you can use to track health status, such as the Health Heart Test. The more proactive you are with your testing, the more health insights you can track over time — wherever you are. A win-win both in the short term and long term.
How to keep your heart healthy: key points
8 equipment-free exercises to support your heart health
A better way to track your health over time