Fitness trackers: is technology fuelling the worried well?  
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Cyberchondria: Is technology fuelling the worried well?  

Fitness trackers and health gadgets are arming us with a host of information about our well-being, but is that always a good thing?

  • Consumers are increasingly at home with using health monitors.
  • People need help understanding the information wearable devices give them.
  • Some medics are concerned that fitness trackers make people worried about their health.

Fitness-tracking wearables, apps and devices have undoubtedly improved people’s relationship with their health, but are users struggling to find a balance?

When fitness trackers first launched in the early 2000s, they rapidly achieved hype status. Soon, everyone you knew was sporting a discreet bangle, perhaps a Fitbit or a (now defunct) Jawbone. And, as is often the case with trends that take off into the stratosphere, commentators started predicting the demise of the wearable.

More than a decade on, the wellness tech trend shows no sign of abating. If anything, it has become even more deeply enmeshed in consumers’ lives (and sometimes to the extreme). From the simple pedometer, functionalities now include sleep tracking, glucose monitors and Apple Watches with built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) feature. This smartphone even automatically called the emergency services when a Norwegian pensioner had a nasty fall.Smartwatch

Wearables are no longer just pieces of techto take to the gym to make sure you’re crushing your workout. Consumers seem to want 24/7 monitoring. Forbes reported a 2018 Accenture survey that discovered 52% of users across six countries wanted to buy a fitness monitor, 46% would be interested in a smartwatch, and 25% would wear sensors on their wrists.

There was also an appetite for wearables to be even more embedded  15% would also want the technology sewn in to their clothing, and 3% would even have them permanently tattooed on to their skin.

Ian McCaig is a technology investor and co-founder of Fiit, a virtual fitness studio experience that includes training plans, video classes, apps and a tracking device. He believes that the 10,000 steps a day movement has been the most successful result of wearables, but that the wellness trend is going to continue to evolve through a technological filter.

“Wearables have done a great job helping to motivate and keep people more accountable. Gamification of fitness is a trend that I only see getting more ingrained in the fitness sector, whether that be within the gyms, or through fitness apps at home that provide a more interactive experience.”

However, McCaig picks up on an interesting challenge for wearables users: the devices do the tracking but can they really provide the insight on what that information actually means?

“The big challenge wearables have is providing more ‘actionability’ and the ‘so what’ moment for users  what do I actually do with the data? How do I get fitter? What should I do next? Lots of people who wear fitness trackers and watches often stop using them as there isn’t much fluctuation in resting heart-rate, sleeping patterns and number of steps.”

smart devices

The worst case scenario is, of course, people’s tendency to refer to Doctor Google. A rise in heart rate may be perfectly natural but without context or expertise, it can cause unfounded concern. This self-diagnosis is behind the “worried well” trend, and the chairman of the UK’s Royal College of Surgeons, Richard Kerr, warned: “The worried well will be sent into hyperdrive.” CNBC reported cardiologist Dr Brian Kolski as saying he wasn’t “anti-Apple” but he also didn’t “want to be pulled away from those who are actually sick”.

So, whose role is it to make sure users are able to find a balance? There is a clear opportunity here for companies in the sector to fill the gap and build deeper relationships with their users. Communication will be at the heart of it. Apple Watch may be able to call the emergency services, but users will still need help understanding what their wearables are telling them.

“The bottom line is, regular tracking of your health can only be a good thing,” McCaig insists. “The benefits far outweigh any possible cons – providing the data is used responsibly by the consumer and health industry at large. Our job as an industry is to continue to find use cases for this data, whether that be helping predict illness or injury or in motivating people to hit their fitness goals.”

“We will see more innovation in the next three years than we have in the past 30,” McCaig predicts. “Smart devices and wearables will become ubiquitous.” This is one fad that is a long way from fading out.

Mediablaze helps companies in the fitness industry such as Speedo and Everyone Active with online content and platforms. To find out how we could help you, email our co-founder Roger Barr.

And if you’d like to discuss a free content marketing masterclass at your office, just let us know.

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