Health tracking has become a normal part of everyday life for a lot of us. You can learn about your sleep patterns, mood, heart rate, steps, menstruation, and diet at the click of a button. But what’s the benefit of having access to all of this information? Can it improve behaviours that affect your health? Here’s what the research says so far.

 

The benefits of health tracking

Tracking your health has been linked to a range of benefits, including:

  • increased levels of physical activity
  • an improved diet
  • better weight management
  • better mental health — like lower stress levels

How tracking can improve your health

There are a number of ways that tracking your health might lead to improvements — largely due to positive changes in your behaviour.

Self-knowledge
Health tracking can help make you more aware of your behaviours and patterns — like how active or inactive you are. This lets you make more personalised lifestyle improvements, rather than following the one-size-fits-all approach.

Feedback
Being able to quickly access feedback about your health-related data can help you:

  • set goals
  • stay motivated

This is often due to the sense of achievement you feel when you get feedback that you’re doing well — reinforcing positive behaviours.

Advice and coaching
A lot of health tracking tools also share personalised health advice with you. So you’re more aware of lifestyle changes that can help improve your health.

Social factors
It’s common for health tracking tools to include features that let you engage with friends, family, and other users. Social factors like social support or competition have been shown to help keep you motivated and accountable.

Are there any downsides to health tracking?

While health tracking can have a number of benefits, there are some possible downsides to be aware of.

Lack of research
There isn’t a lot of published research to see if the benefits of health tracking are long-lasting. But research in this area is ongoing so more evidence will be available to assess soon.

Inconvenient
Tracking your health all of the time might be impractical for you — particularly if you’re going through a busy or stressful time.

Negative feelings
If you’re getting constant reminders that you’re not doing well, it can lead to negative feelings about your behaviour. For example, counting calories might promote self-loathing.

Overall, there are some limitations to health tracking. But evidence also shows that it can help make you more aware of your behaviours, offer advice and social support, and keep you motivated. This can lead to positive behavioural changes that ultimately might lead to improvements in your health.

 

References:

Attig, C., & Franke, T. (2019). I track, therefore I walk–Exploring the motivational costs of wearing activity trackers in actual users. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 127, 211-224.

Fritz, T., Huang, E. M., Murphy, G. C., & Zimmermann, T. (2014, April). Persuasive technology in the real world: a study of long-term use of activity sensing devices for fitness. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 487-496). ACM.

Economides, M., Martman, J., Bell, M. J., & Sanderson, B. (2018). Improvements in stress, affect, and irritability following brief use of a mindfulness-based smartphone app: a randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1584-1593.

Shin, G., Jarrahi, M. H., Fei, Y., Karami, A., Gafinowitz, N., Byun, A., & Lu, X. (2019). Wearable Activity Trackers, Accuracy, Adoption, Acceptance and Health Impact: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of biomedical informatics, 103153.

Sullivan, A. N., & Lachman, M. E. (2017). Behavior change with fitness technology in sedentary adults: a review of the evidence for increasing physical activity. Frontiers in public health, 4, 289.

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