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Why Making Invisible Health Behaviors Visible Matters

By: Kapil Parakh, MD PHD | Medical Lead, Fitbit Health Solutions

Over the years, a significant amount of data has been gathered on the negative effects of sedentary behavior, with large-scale population studies demonstrating a correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and metabolic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.1 Conversely, smaller intervention studies have revealed that increased physical activity can lead to improvements in various markers of health, such as blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.2

Certain patient cohorts can benefit even more from increased physical activity. For example, patients recovering from surgery often have better outcomes when they engage in early and frequent activity.3

Some physical activity advocates even go so far as to claim that “sitting is the new smoking” in order to highlight the severe consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. While there might be questions about that particular turn of phrase, there’s no question that more movement is good for health across a population.

How can we reduce sedentary time and encourage movement?

This is an area where technology plays a critical role, and one that Fitbit has been at the forefront of since our founding. Inspired by video games that track a player’s movements, our founders set out to measure and encourage physical activity in people’s daily lives.

Through the development of wearable devices that track steps and encourage users to move more, Fitbit has made sedentary time more visible and actionable.

How many steps should people take? Is 10,000 steps a good goal?

Fitbit set the standard for the 10,000 steps per day goal over a decade ago4. But people have often wondered if 10,000 is too much, too little, or just right.

A recent study involving over 75,000 participants has validated the 10,000 steps goal as a measure of good health.5 The study verified that:

  • People who achieve 10,000 steps on a regular basis experience reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality.
  • Participants who take more steps report a lower body mass index (BMI), better sleep, and less use of alcohol or tobacco.
  • Higher intensity steps associated with activity are consistently associated with lower risks across all outcomes.

While we’re excited to see 10,000 steps validated by such a large and comprehensive study, we recognize that every user is unique, and therefore may have different goals for their individual needs and circumstances. That is why we make it easy for people to set and modify goals so they can incorporate movement into their daily lives in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Understanding how invisible behaviors impact personal health

This study demonstrated one of the most valuable lessons we have learned in our journey as a company: the power of making the invisible visible.

If people are unaware of how much they move or sit throughout the day, let alone the exact number of steps they take, it becomes difficult to make the right choices or ensure progress is being made. And the impact of these unseen behaviors can add up to major issues: an analysis of thirteen studies found that individuals who sit for more than eight hours per day without any physical activity have a risk of death that is similar to that of obesity and smoking.6

Keep in mind that the impact of unseen behaviors can vary significantly from person to person, which is why broad goals are useful at a population level but may not be appropriate for every individual. To give people the best chance of making meaningful and sustainable changes to their behavior in a way that makes the most sense for their individual needs, it is essential to provide them with the information and context they need to quantify their unique starting point, set personal goals, and track their progress over time.

In addition to tracking daily step count, Fitbit devices allow users to track their stationary time and see when they are most likely to be sedentary. By understanding activity and stationary patterns and using alerts to break up sedentary time, we help people make informed choices that help them improve their overall health and wellbeing on a daily basis, whether by reaching the goal of 10,000 steps or achieving a personalized health target.

The benefits of physical activity for payers

Payers have discovered that empowering users with physical activity trackers, like Fitbit devices, can have a significant impact on both health outcomes and cost reduction at scale, particularly in certain populations that stand to benefit most from these programs.

A meta-analysis shows that the incorporation of Fitbit data can lead to improved health outcomes, while also promoting engagement with the payer brand as a daily companion among users.7 Users can also leverage their devices to improve health in other ways, such as improving sleep, detecting atrial fibrillation (AFib), and more.

Providing wearable technology to members allows payers to engage with them in new ways. By providing users with real-time feedback and personalized recommendations based on data, payers can empower people to make the invisible visible so they can create the positive changes in their daily habits that lead to improved long-term outcomes.


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The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.