Wearable fitness trackers can really help people lose weight and achieve their fitness goals.

This is according to a team of Australian researchers at the University of South Australia, who reported that fitness trackers, pedometers, and smartwatches could help motivate people to stay on track of their exercising regimen and lose weight.

Recently published in The Lancet Digital Health, the researchers reviewed almost 400 studies involving around 164,000 people who monitored their physical activity using wearable activity trackers (WATs).

The researchers found that WATs encouraged people to walk up to 40 more minutes each day — equivalent to about 1,800 more steps. This results in a 1 kg weight loss over five months. While it may not seem a lot, the researchers said this was meaningful from a public health perspective.

"Bearing in mind these were not weight loss studies, but lifestyle physical activity studies, so we wouldn't expect dramatic weight loss. The average person gains about 0.5 kg a year in weight creep so losing 1 kg over five months is significant, especially when you consider that two-thirds of Australians are overweight or obese," said UniSA Professor Carol Maher, a co-author of the review.

According to the researchers, the findings underline the value of low-cost interventions that can help tackle the growing epidemic of health conditions partially caused by lack of physical activity and exercise. Such conditions include cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancers, and even mental illness.

Lead researcher and UniSA Ph.D. candidate Ty Ferguson said that despite the rise in popularity of WATs, many people are still skeptical about their effectiveness, accuracy, and whether they fuel eating disorders. However, plenty of data surrounding their effectiveness is overwhelmingly positive.

Apart from the extra weight loss and physical activity attributed to WATs, there is evidence that fitness trackers can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.

"The other reported benefit is that WATs improved depression and anxiety through an increase in physical activity," added Ferguson.

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of wearable activity trackers sold worldwide significantly increased.