Fitness Technology

Living in a digital age makes it inevitable that the fitness world should be transformed by the various technologies shaping today’s culture. But are those new technologies — whether app-based, wearable devices or video programs — truly helping people lead healthier lifestyles?

Currently, empirical evidence that suggests new technologies are causing people to lead more active lives is scarce. In fact, a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016, titled, “Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss,” determined that, “devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.”

But anecdotally, several users of these various technologies, all of whom ranged from late 20s to mid 30s, find benefits — such as Chicago resident Christopher Szymanski, who says he uses an app to map and measure his running.

“But it’s rarely a motivator for me to push myself farther,” he says.

Another fitness tech user, Jen Boyle, says technology did have an early impact, but that it isn’t always a long-lasting connection.

“It creates a personal competition for myself that only I can see or control,” Boyle says. “Since I check my phone a million times a day, it's more accessible. However, after months or weeks, I fall off the wagon.”

Adding another wrinkle to the conversation, Boyle says her employer makes fitness and health technology usage an incentive for health care reimbursement.

Liz Perez says technology has definitively helped her fitness routine.

“I use it to track my exercise — calories burned — as well as calorie intake, which has, in turn, helped me lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle,” Perez says. “Being able to track and see a log of my food keeps me accountable.”

Perez does see some potential drawbacks to technology, but they have never been an issue for her.

“I know some people can become addicted or obsessive over it, but I haven't found that to be a problem,” she says. “Also, you can connect with others online for some healthy competition. I use the Fitbit Blaze and like the style of it, which also adds to the fun of it as you can switch out the bands.”

The cost range for some of these products varies. Apps such as My Fitness Pal, for example, are free. But some wearable tech can cost upwards of $200. Fitness DVDs from Beachbody or other companies can cost from $40 to more than $100.

Martin Acevedo, a fitness trainer in the suburbs of Chicago, says technology has been popping up more and more at the gym.

“I know a lot of the clients I work with have things like Fitbits. I have them use the My Fitness Pal app to keep track of their diet,” he says. “As these things become more user-friendly, I think more people are more apt to use technology to help them work out.”

Acevedo says use of the new technology, however, can be limited by age factors and familiarity.

“I know with some of my older clients, they still like to write things out, whereas if I’m working with someone in their 30s, they are more likely to understand [the technology] I’m talking about or are already using it,” he says. “I’m a physical education teacher, too, and I see a lot of the kids wearing Fitbits and stuff. They keep track of how much activity they are doing.”

Acevedo sees benefits and negatives to the onslaught of technology.

“It’s easier now more than ever to find out what works and the different types of programs you can use to gain strength or the different types of diets,” he says. “It’s very accessible. But on the other hand, there are a lot of people out there [on websites such as YouTube] giving out false information or suggesting exercises that people aren’t ready to do.”

As is the case with any workout, there is no “cure-all” app or device that will work for everybody. Fitness technology can act as a source of motivation of guidance, but, as always, the user has to maintain an active lifestyle outside the virtual realm.