Could fitness apps encouraging you to walk 10,000 steps a day be doing more harm than good?

Could fitness apps encouraging you to walk 10,000 steps be doing more harm than good? [Photo: Pexels]

These days it’s pretty unusual to spot a wrist that isn’t adorned with some sort of fitness tracker. “8,000 steps down, only 2,000 to go,” people groan as they check their fitness tech over coffee, lunch, cocktails. But a leading expert has warned that chasing those golden 10,000 steps per day actually be doing more harm than good to your health.

Dr Greg Hager, a professor of computer science from Johns Hopkins University in the US, maintains ‘very few’ of the estimated 165,000 available healthcare apps are based on scientific evidence.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Dr Hager warned that a one-size-fits-all approach to exercising could be harmful for some people.

“Some of you might wear Fitbits or something equivalent, and I bet every now and then it gives you that cool little message ‘you did 10,000 steps today,’” he said. “But why is 10,000 steps important? What’s big about 10,000?”

“Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume so they picked 10,000 steps as a number,” he continued.

“But is that the right number for any of you in this room? Who knows? It’s just a number that’s now built into the apps.”

One-size-fits-all fitness apps might not be the best approach [Photo: Pexels]

Dr Hager went on to warn that some of the fitness plans promoted by certain apps could actually “amplify issues” for some users.

He stressed that not everyone would be capable of completing the requisite 10,000 steps a day, particularly if they have an underlying health issue, but the apps aren’t necessarily able to factor this in. He also pointed out that in obsessing about completing a certain number of steps, we may not be undertaking other exercise that would be more suitable to our health needs.

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good,” he said. “I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful,” he said.

It’s not the first time that the health and fitness benefits of trackers has been questioned. A study last year found that wearing a fitness tracker or pedometer did not improve users’ health, even when they were offered a cash incentive to complete more steps.

And recent research by the University of Pittsburgh concluded that people who used a wearable technology device lost less weight than those undertaking standard weight loss techniques.

But though researchers were keen to point out the dangers of purely relying on fitness technology, they also stressed that there was a place for their use within the health and fitness industry.

The fact is that having a movement target is a good thing, but the future of fitness has to involve step goals that are more specific to your own health, body shape, age and diet.

What do you think? Do you think fitness apps could be doing more harm than good? Let us know @YahooStyleUK

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