Do fitness trackers really benefit our health? Researchers say they're actually quite effective in improving physical activity.

Fitness trackers have become a part of many people's daily lives, especially among those looking to increase their physical activity. Such wearable activity trackers are a "low cost tool" to help people address their physical inactivity, researchers noted in a paper, published in Lancet Digital Health.

There was a whopping 1,444% boom in wearable tracker shipment worldwide from 2014 to 2020. Despite the demand, there is still quite a bit of skepticism about their effectiveness.

The research team analyzed 39 experimental studies on the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers. This included nearly 164,000 users from across the world, covering both clinical and healthy people in all age groups.

They found "consistent evidence" that such devices actually affect people's physical activity. Specifically, the results suggested that the use of these devices helped improve physical activity, body composition and fitness equivalent to 40 more minutes of walking per day (1,800 extra steps) and about a kilo reduction in body weight.

"The overall results from the studies we reviewed show that wearable activity trackers are effective across all age groups and for long periods of time," study lead researcher Ty Ferguson, of the University of South Australia (UniSA), said in a news release. "They encourage people to exercise on a regular basis, to make it part of their routine and to set goals to lose weight."

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

Apart from these physical benefits, they may have mental health benefits as well. The devices helped improve depression and anxiety by increasing physical activity, Ferguson said.

This highlights the effectiveness of such activity trackers in boosting physical activity. The study provides "sufficient evidence" to recommend using them, according to the researchers.

Such low-cost and user-friendly tools could prove useful in today's world, where physical inactivity has become a "major threat to population health."

"Low-cost interventions to address physical inactivity in clinical and non-clinical populations that are suited to the demands of modern lifestyles are needed," the researchers wrote. "Wearable activity trackers (consumer devices that provide feedback to the wearer, such as fitness trackers, activity-tracking smartwatches, and pedometers) could meet this need."