Top 4 Features for Fitness Tech Engagement

March 9, 2022
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Fitness Research Spotlight

Fitness technologies include wearables, such as watches, rings, and heart rate straps. Heart rate monitors that embed directly into headbands and smart sports bras have also hit the market. These promise to improve the comfort of traditional chest straps by blending them into soft and supple fitness apparel. Men are not left out of the sports bra wearable market, because there are unisex versions that accommodate diverse chest sizes.

Growing interest

Fitness wearables have gained popularity over the past 15 years and studies suggest that 30% of US adults own a wearable device. Pandemic restrictions accelerated the adoption of these fitness technologies. Key predictors of wearable users include those who tend to be younger, have some level of college education, and have annual household incomes that exceed $75,000. Most fitness wearables require that users download an associated mobile application to view their personal data. But some consumers support their workout motivation through apps alone, or smartwatch wearables that display tracked behaviors directly.

With all of these fitness tech options, what are top drivers of these purchases? Most of these features have remained stable over the past 10 years according to published research. 

Ease-of-use

A repetitive theme found in research is how consumers want their interactions with fitness tech to be user-friendly and streamlined. Fitness technology should be easy to use and only needs a few clicks to get started. “You want to get to the process as simple as possible,” explains a user in a qualitative study.

Apps and wearables are expected to function reliably with minimal cognitive effort. The user experience should be intuitive enough that first-time users can navigate the app and get the wearable working in just a few minutes. It’s important that fitness tech continues to integrate user feedback so that these tools can appeal to the widest possible target audience.

Sense of privacy

Surveys show that fitness tech users of all ages place a high value on privacy. Features for sharing their fitness journey on social media can be perceived as unnecessary. Most users are concerned about their personal health information being exposed. This includes data that would expose their current fitness level, body weight and chronic conditions.

Consumers are most interested in their individual privacy. But potential issues can emerge with group-level data. Even if companies share data in aggregate reporting, there is always the possibility that it will reveal too much information about tech users. In rare cases, fitness tech companies have made aggregate data available to all, and it can have unintended consequences. For example, GPS data let’s others know exactly where users engage with the technology. In 2017, Strava inadvertently revealed sensitive military base location info by showing a heat map of user activity. In response to this security breach, US troops and Defense Department employees are forbidden from using geolocation features in their fitness tech

Perceived usefulness

For fitness tech to be used long-term, users must believe their interactions with the device/platform are useful. When an item is useful, it fulfills its expected purpose. This means users want to see a difference in their behavior before and after adopting a new fitness technology.

Tech should be developed with an emphasis on sustainable habit formation because users expect that a fitness tech purchase will result in behavior change. Feedback to the user must affirm that fitness tech is helping them embrace an active lifestyle. For instance, users should see direct evidence in the form of graphs, charts and/or  dated entries that they are meeting exercise goals. These can provide proof that they are exercising more often, exercising with greater intensity, and making progress on personal health goals. 

Credibility

Reliable health information can be a challenge to find online. There are many inaccurate claims and poor sources of guidance in the age of social media influencers. Plus, there are 1000s of fitness blogs and 70% of bloggers recycle old content. Debunked health and fitness myths are continually re-posted and blogs include outlandish statements as click-bait. For example, exercise enthusiasm is undermined by blog claims that “cardio makes us fat,” “exercise hurts the heart,” or that “exercise breaks up families,” to use some real blog examples. Related to this issue, many bloggers link to other blogs instead of peer-reviewed research. Linked claims can give an illusion of credibility, even though they often represent the opinions of other uninformed bloggers.

It is true that exercise carries risk, but not exercising carries more risk, as emphasized by the World Health Organization.  

Fitness tech users are likely to stop using wearables and apps if they question the validity of the guidance they receive. Personal factors must be taken into account, including age, sex, chronic conditions, and baseline fitness level. The best fitness technologies highlight the importance of shared-decision making with our personal health care providers, those who know our full medical histories and current health status. 

Future estimates

The market for fitness trackers increased from $14.6 to $17.4 Billion between 2019 to 2020. But will we continue to engage with these technologies after pandemic restrictions are fully eliminated? All available evidence suggests that the market will continue to grow. For example, estimates indicate that the global fitness tracker market could reach $115 Billion USD by 2028!

 

As Treo’s Global Wellness Researcher, Karlie uses recent research findings to support healthier daily habits. Karlie earned her doctorate in Neuroscience and Behavior and bachelors in Health and Exercise Science.