It’s traditional to set New Year’s resolutions around health and fitness – and just as common is to drop them within a few months.
For those of us looking to fight the flab it seems January is awash with adverts for gadgets and gizmos that promise to help you burn off the calories and get in tip-top shape for the year ahead.
The days of a Rosemary Conley workout video are long gone, replaced with a different smartphone app or newfangled device for every day of the week, each claiming to help you run faster, cycle more efficiently and help you swim better. Many tell you where to go, how best to do it and the number of beads of sweat you may have perspired.
From free apps to expensive satnav wristwatches and bike computers, getting fit has never taken so much brainpower to figure out.
These devices are more popular than ever – reaching tens of millions every day on a global scale – but can they really help us get over the inevitable wall and stick to our fitness guns?
So far little research has been done to test the effectiveness of the various programmes, something Capital academics are soon hoping to address.
Dr Graham Baker, who is leading research into the phenomenon within the Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences department at the University of Edinburgh said that while the devices promise the Earth, it is an assertion based on little evidence.
The university team, part of the physical activity for health research centre, will work with colleagues in digital education and computer and data science, to evaluate how the technology is being used and how effective it is.
“These things are obviously massively popular but little has been done to measure just how effective they are yet. There’s a big boom around technology and health and fitness apps, with some of the most popular ones having tens-of-millions downloads,” he said.
“One of the concerns we have is whether they are providing accurate and consistent feedback to people about their health behaviours. With so many of the devices and health apps, there is really very little literature which has looked at whether they are providing useful or accurate information.
“It can be quite demotivating to have inaccurate feedback, especially if they are going for specific goals like losing weight, which says they are not achieving it when it can simply be that the device is not accurate.
“At the moment, they are really attractive to people but the evidence so would suggest it is not going to create the long-term fitness behavioural change that we are really after.”
In addition to the smartphone technology, there are slightly more pricey devices on the market to track like the FitbitOne sleep tracker or Jawbone UP which vibrates when you have been sitting “too long”.
With the seemingly endless data on the likes of metabolic rates, activity levels, heart rate, sleep levels and calorie counters, there are questions on how much Joe Public understands or even cares about.
He adds: “An area of research to look at is whether the information provided by these apps is actually useful to people or whether it is simply redundant data. Does having that level of information encourage people to stick with exercise after that six-month period? More than half of the people that purchase the device, actually stop wearing it and don’t use it in the long term. There’s not really much evidence to show at the moment that it leads to long-term behaviour changes.
“It’s not to say it’s a bad thing. We’re really excited about the opportunities that technology can provide for people. It is opening up fitness and health to so many people that might have access to it than before.
“With the way smartphones are growing, there are a lot of people there that wouldn’t go to an exercise class or been motivated to do things on their own. So having that technology available to them very close to hand and having that feedback, presents them with a lot of opportunity.” And while the technology may exist to monitor your every move, it may be best to just pick a simple routine that fits into your daily life and try to stick with it.
Fitness Superstore fitness adviser Laura Betts says ensuring your chosen daily exercise was easy to slot into your day was key to ensuring your fitness routine gets off to a good start. If you choose a programme that stops you doing the things you love, or sign up to a 5pm gym class you’ll struggle to get to after work, it’s not going to work for you. Instead, try to set aside times and that will practically work for you. Try the same time each week to get into a routine, and actually do it.”
Equally important, is to set realistic and achievable goal rather than vague objectives such as “get healthy”, “lose weight” or “build muscle”. Making a more specific set of aims like dropping a dress size, running 5k without walking or doing 100 press-ups in a row so you can track your progress and see you’re getting closer to your goal. And this is where technology can come in handy.
“It’ll give you a confidence boost to see you’re making steady progress. A heart rate monitor is a good way to keep track of your fitness levels, or try the Bowflex Boost, £49.99, a 24/7 activity tracker band that monitors your every move, meaning you’re kept informed of the calories you’re burning not only when actively working out, but also in your daily life.”
Laura also believes that as home is often where we’re happiest, combined with the fact you don’t have to travel to get there, then that makes it an ideal place to work out – making home gym equipment a great investment. “It’s a good idea to combine cardio and resistance training, so get some key pieces of fitness equipment for your home. Cardio machines such as the BH Fitness F1 Folding Treadmill, £499 or the Nordic Track E4.2 Elliptical Trainer, £349 are ideal for the home and a set of dumbbells, such as the Body Power Revolution Adjustable Dumbbells (2-20kg) are great space savers.”
Of course you can have all the technology you want but the one thing you cannot buy or download is willpower. It is one application that must come from within.