Myths about fitness-tracking technologies

In the tech-fitness industry – cleverly built around selling activity-tracking gadgets – one of the golden rules for a healthy lifestyle is to reach 10,000 steps a day. The trouble is this number is somewhat arbitrary with no real scientific evidence supporting it.

The myth about the 10,000 steps-a-day rule (credit: Reuters)

The myth about the 10,000 steps-a-day rule (credit: Reuters)

Activity-tracking devices have become very popular – according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), in 2015 vendors shipped a total of 78.1 million units, up by 171.6% over 2014. The recipe of their success is simple. The tracker sets a goal, you wear it, forget it and it notifies you when you reach your daily achievements, which makes you feel great. But, there is something you might not know. The 10,000 steps-a-day goal is somewhat of a myth.

It started in 1965 with a Japanese pedometer called manpo-kei – literally meaning ’10,000 steps meter’ – which was marketed in Japan by Y. Hatano. Over the next several decades, this number became a ‘universally-accepted’ benchmark everyone referred to. Several experts are now coming forward saying that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that 10,000 is the magic number: “It was just kind of made up!” says straightforwardly Euan Ashley, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and genetics at Stanford University (CA, US).

Together with the 10,000-steps-a-day rule, other fitness credos have now been questioned. For instance, standing desks are near-universally seen as a healthy workplace habit, but only a handful of studies have actually looked at their benefits. “The way we sit today, is really kind of a new phenomenon. […] We sit for hours on end, some times without getting up, but we haven’t been doing that for very long and evidence over the past decade or so has just started to accumulate […]. So in theory it makes sense that if we replace some of that sitting with standing up it would be better, but we actually don’t really know that right now. The research is just developing because these standing desks just started coming on the market,” Bethany B. Gibbs, a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh (PA, US), commented in an interview.

Despite the missing evidence to these fitness claims, there is a silver lining to the issue. Because of the explosion in interest in the tech-fitness industry, scientists have now started carrying out the actual research to test the tenuous footing some of these myths are currently standing on. Until the verdict is out, you can keep decreasing caloric consumption and increasing caloric expenditure, as this seems to be the true golden rule to a healthy lifestyle.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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