FitBit Pays Off: Wearable Fitness Trackers Are a Good Buy

If you're circling the block trying to get your 10,000 steps in, congratulations — you're probably one of the 4 in 5 fitness tracker fans who use the device for at least six months. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have just released a study looking at how to keep people motivated to exercise. It turns out that incentivizing exercise through gamification really sticks.

It's intuitive that we'd rather do things that are fun. Keeping track of our progress and making a game of it gives us opportunities to compete against our friends, our families, and ourselves. With this new research, health care professionals have an even better idea of who's using fitness trackers, how they're doing, and where more outreach could help people reach their fitness goals.

This study is also evidence that you probably haven't wasted your money on one more gadget you're not sure you'll use. While usage varied among age groups, younger people were twice as likely to own or use devices like FitBits, the Apple Watch, and mobile phone apps versus the population as a whole. (That's probably no surprise if you've ever spotted those telltale wristbands and clip-ons at the office.)

Unfortunately, the populations that might benefit the most from increased exercise and interaction may be those least likely to afford the devices. Users of fitness trackers tended to be younger and have higher incomes. That said, if you work in health and/or nonprofits, this might be a great opportunity to help your clients.

"Gamification and financial incentives are commonly used within wellness programs, but their impact has not been well studied," said the University of Pennsylvania's Mitesh Patel. "Our findings provide initial evidence suggesting that these types of engagement strategies may show promise for keeping sustained use high. However, more studies are needed to determine the best way to combine these types of engagement strategies with activity trackers to improve health outcomes."