To buy or not to buy?
It’s a question that many potential Fitbit-buyers face as they weigh the pros and cons of having a fitness tracker.
For some, the decision is easy: a fitness tracker is exactly what they need to push themselves in a healthier direction, or the hefty price is enough for them to pass the trackers by. The mixed reviews about the devices leave everyone else somewhere in between.
To answer the first question, most people need an answer to a second: do fitness trackers even work?
Since Fitbit hit the market in 2009, the fitness tracker industry has expanded greatly. Apple jumped on the fitness tracker bandwagon in 2015 with the release of the Apple Watch and the competition for the most user-friendly fitness watch became that much fiercer.
Because fitness trackers are relatively new devices, little scientific research has been conducted to test their effectiveness.
However, a study released in September 2016 by the University of Pittsburgh showed that the subjects who used fitness trackers actually lost less weight on average than the subjects who didn’t use fitness trackers throughout their weight loss.
That does not mean fitness trackers haven’t had a positive impact on the fitness levels of many of its users. Rave reviews of fitness trackers are all over the Internet and recent success stories with the devices continue to flow in.
Lauren McNally is one of those with a history of success in regards to fitness tracker usage. McNally (freshman-nursing) has used her Fitbit for about four years and her MyFitnessPal app for about a year and a half. She said she finds it easier to stay consistent with working out when she’s logging, tracking and setting daily goals for herself.
Originally, she downloaded the MyFitnessPal app because the office she works for had a competition between staffs to see which group could get the most steps. Since then, she’s fallen in love with fitness trackers.
McNally uses Fitbit to count her steps and monitor her heart rate and MyFitnessPal to monitor the kinds of food she eats and how much water she drinks. As someone with a family history of heart disease, she finds that having a fitness tracker helps her keep an eye on her general health.
To her, fitness trackers are 100 percent worth the price.
“I mean, there’s free stuff out there that you can use,” McNally said. “But I think that usually if you pay for it, you get a better product that helps you out a little bit more.”
Brenna Pribanic agrees that fitness trackers are worth the money. Pribanic (sophomore-architecture) uses her Apple Watch daily and recommends it even for people who only workout a couple times a week due to the versatility of the device.
Pribanic has been around the fitness tracker block. Before her current Apple Watch, she used a Garmin and before that, a Fitbit. She finds that of the three, she likes her Apple Watch best because of its capabilities in and out of the gym and the large amount of workout types it accommodates, including cross training, swimming and elliptical use.
“It’s just very helpful to be able to track what you’re doing and see the progress,” Pribanic said, “[I like] being able to look back on previous workouts and see how you’ve done, what your heart rate was, what your calorie burning was and compare it to workouts I’m doing now just to improve myself over the course of time.”
Not everyone has seen productive results with their fitness trackers.
Lindsey Rullman bought a Fitbit two years ago and used it for six months before giving it up.
“I feel like it was just the hype,” Rullman (junior-landscape architecture) said. “After a while you just get tired of it, checking it back and forth all the time. It just didn’t motivate me as much as they all said it would... I think people just like the idea that there’s something on them to check their information at all times.”
Callahan Miller, a group fitness instructor at Penn State, said that because everyone tracks their fitness levels in different ways, fitness trackers work for some people and they don’t for others.
Miller (junior-graphic design) cited fitness trackers’ organization as one of its primary positive attributes because trackers can help with accountability and daily goal setting. She said for many, just telling themselves they need to work out without any form of reinforcement is not enough.
“I would say that [fitness trackers] are more geared toward people who need a little bit of a push,” Miller said. “I think we see fitness trackers come up a lot more when it’s the beginning of the year because people are trying to take on a new schedule, they have all these resolutions, so I think someone that needs to be reminded ‘hey, this is my resolution or this is my goal’ — that’s great for people.”
From a fitness instructor’s standpoint, Miller believes fitness trackers are worth the money, especially in consideration of the safety of the gym’s fitness patrons.
“If you’re a person that doesn’t really conform to schedules or routines, I think it might be a waste of money because you’re not [going to] be looking at it,” she said.
Besides people’s inability to stick to schedules, school and work can also serve to pull fitness tracker users away from consistent usage.
Matt Seba has been using the iPhone’s health app for four years now, but had a brief off period from tracking due to school and other priorities.
Seba (senior-plant science) said that it can be hard to keep up with tracking food in particular because of the need to manually log everything eaten in a day and because it’s easy to forget to log a meal.
Overall, Seba thinks trackers have enhanced his fitness and would recommend trackers to others for sure, even if their goal isn’t to lose weight. To Seba, using a tracker is a good way to make sure his lifestyle isn’t too sedentary and just to see how much he actually walks per day.
“It’s surprising sometimes, like how many calories you actually burn by walking,” he said.
For others, it’s the trackers’ price that keeps them from investing in a fitness tracker. A Fitbit Charge 2 is roughly $150 on Amazon and the starting price of a Series 1 Apple Watch is $249 according to Apple.
Teresa Murphy, a member of Penn State’s equestrian team, doesn’t use a fitness tracker for that very reason.
“I just don’t have the money. I would definitely use one, but I can’t afford one right now...I just don’t think something that counts my steps and monitors my heart rate is worth a hundred twenty dollars or whatever it is for a Fitbit,” Murphy (sophomore-biology) said.
Beth Yeung, a club field hockey player, has a similar line of thought when it comes to her desire for a fitness tracker and her desire to save money.
“I guess it’s kind of expensive, so you have to give and take,” Yeung (sophomore-food science) said, “I want it, but it’s not like a priority.”
For others, buying a cheaper, off-brand fitness tracker is the best way to compromise.
Katherine Kauma, a club ski racing member, has been using her MeFit for about a week now. She bought it for $30 as a part of her New Year’s resolution to be healthier.
Kauma (freshman-astronomy and astrophysics) said that she acknowledges the view that fitness trackers are just glorified pedometers.
“That’s probably accurate,” she said with a laugh, “but they make me feel better.”