Tips to improve your health

Wearing a fitness tracker may help you keep tabs on how many steps you take, but the devices themselves — even with the lure of a cash reward — probably won’t improve your health, according to the biggest study yet done on the trendy technology.

Scientists say that although the activity trackers may boost the number of steps people take, it probably isn’t enough to help them drop pounds or improve overall health.

“These are basically measuring devices,” said Eric Finkelstein, a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, who led the research. “Knowing how active you are doesn’t translate into getting people to do more and the novelty of having that information wears off pretty quickly.”

Finkelstein and colleagues tested the Fitbit Zip tracker in a group of 800 adults in Singapore, by dividing them into four groups. Of those people, more than half were overweight and obese and about one third were active.

A control group got information about exercise but no tracker and a second group got the Fitbit Zip; everyone in those groups also got about $2.92 a week. Participants in the last two groups got the tracker and about $11 for every week they logged between 50,000 and 70,000 steps. One of the groups had the money donated to charity while the other kept the cash.

After six months, people with the Fitbit and who got the cash payment showed the biggest boost in physical activity. But after a year, 90 percent of participants had abandoned the device. The physical activity of the Fitbit wearers did not decline over the year as much as it did for those who were not given a tracker, but the higher activity level wasn’t enough to produce any improvements in weight or blood pressure.