An estimated 19 million fitness-tracking devices were in use in 2014 and a recent report by Juniper Research predicts that the use of activity trackers will triple by 2018.
So what does this mean for the health and fitness industry? Research shows that the use of activity trackers leads to an increase in overall physical activity. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 concluded that overall pedometer users increased their physical activity by 26.9 percent.
“What they have done is they have helped to raise individuals’ levels of awareness with regard to how active or how much they move during the course of the day,” said Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “I think they have the potential to have a pretty profound health impact.”
In the past year, fitness trackers exploded onto the market. Now, after realizing the impact they can have, an increasing number of gyms are taking advantage of this new technology.
Depending on a member’s goals, trainers at Life Time Fitness encourage clients to invest in wearable technology. “With these trackers, people are more aware of how sedentary [they’ve] become,” said Dan Hubley, the technology and devices expert at Life Time Fitness. “People are getting up and active more, paying more attention to their sleep patterns and ultimately, their overall health, and that’s a great thing.”
With a plethora of different trackers on the market, it can be hard to decide which one is best. According to Hubley, Life Time Fitness has taken the guesswork out of choosing the correct device.
“We have a team of professionals that vet each of the 15 products we sell in our clubs thoroughly,” said Hubley. “From there, our certified personal trainers can help members navigate their goals, what they need and what they want from a fitness tracker, helping them choose the device that is right for them.”
Anytime Fitness is also trying to wrap wearable technology in the overall fitness solutions at their clubs. Tony Nicholson, the director of health and wellness initiatives at Anytime Fitness, spent more than two years researching leaders in the tracking market such as Fitbit, Nike, Garmin, Jawbone and more. “I spent a ton of time digging in and immersing myself in the space,” he said. “I learned a ton about what they do and how they can make an impact.”
The fitness franchise is trying to shift the focus from encouraging members to spend all their time in the gym to a more holistic approach. Being active goes beyond prescribed workouts.
“We are trying to get away from the mentality that you have to spend all of your time at the gym; it is much bigger than that,” explained Nicholson. “You have to track what you eat and then you really have to be active outside of the gym.”
Through his research, Nicholson came to the conclusion that Fitbit would be the best fit, and Anytime Fitness franchises now recommend members invest in one of the devices. They have the option to choose from a wide variety of products such as Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Charge and the Charge HR, all of which provide the user with helpful information on their activity levels.
However, since trackers are relatively new on the market, accuracy has been called into question. ACE conducted a study in 2014 that examined various activity trackers, assessing their relative accuracy with regard to steps taken and calories expended.
“What we found is that in general they tend to do a reasonably credible job at estimating the number of steps taken,” said Bryant. “The error rates were in about the 10 percent range. Where you started to see larger error rates was with regard to their predictions about calories burned. The error rates ranged anywhere between 13 to 60 percent, most hovering in that 20 to 30 percent range.”
It is no surprise that these new developments in technology are altering the way trainers, coaches, managers and even club owners communicate and engage with members.
“If you look at the way trainers have approached their members in the past, it has always been about seeing one another in person in order to make an impact,” said Nicholson. “But with new technologies we are going to see opportunities to have traditional clients in person, do some digital coaching and look at a client’s diet, steps, sleep, to coach on five or six different metrics, which adds more value.”
According to Nicholson, clubs and trainers who don’t evolve with technology are going to get left behind. “You are not going to have that sustained stickiness with your clients,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to coach them as effectively and you are not going to be able to show more value. It is going to completely change the way the services are offered.”
For those who do embrace this new technology, it’s just the beginning of what is expected to be a longtime era. The digital health arena is only going to continue to grow and expand.
“I think as with many devices that the algorithms tend to improve over time as more data becomes available and there are refinements to the equations,” said Bryant. “The accuracy is likely to improve as they make adjustments to the algorithms used for estimating steps and calories.”
So what is going to be the next new trend when it comes to tracking technology? Hubley believes smart watches, like the Garmin VivoActive and the Apple Watch, will continue to evolve and become more interactive and seamless in everyday life.