Insights into technology and media


Fitness wearables: pressing onto long term use


Most people say they do more physical activity once they get a fitness wearable. However, the longer they own them, the less likely they are to use them and take exercise: nearly one third of all fitness owners stop using them after six months.

Of course, this has implications for health - for many, fitness wearables are novelties that slowly wear off, and the fitness of owners decline.

But this also has implications for the brands that make them. Unless there are uplifts in people using them over the long term, likely purchasers will continue to be first timers who by definition will be a shrinking pond. And giving up is hardly a source of recommendation to friends and family.

So, why do owners abandon their devices? Reasons include:

  • Forgetting to wear the device
  • Discomfort during exercise
  • Lack of aesthetic appeal
  • Loss of interest
  • Felt lack of need for the device

How can brands increase likelihood for use over the long term? In a recent study by the University of Southern California, activity sensors were embedded in the arms of specially designed prescription glasses that paired to a mobile app.

This approach was unusual because the research didn't require participants to use a separate wearable item. Rather, the technology fitted into their daily routines of putting on spectacles, therefore requiring less cognitive effort i.e. remembering to put on a dedicated device.

Although the unique design meant continued recording of steps, average daily steps declined over the course of the study. So, what were the factors that encouraged continued exercise amomng those whose daily steps were maintained?

Altruism. To see whether altruism would have any impact on maintaining daily exercise, each participant who met daily goals could donate a free eye exam and prescription glasses to a group of their choosing, such as low-income kids or homeless people. Those who kept on going longer reported greater motivation for charitable giving than those who gave up sooner.

Social prompts. People who received prompts from friends and family via users' social networks linked to the app were much more likely to keep up daily exercise than those who didn't receive them.

Life satisfaction. Satisfaction with life was the most important baseline characteristic for keeping up daily goals, but this was consistent with other research that show people who have higher levels of extraversion, openness, friendliness, and conscientiousness are more likely to exercise regularly.

Based on this study, altruism and encouragement from people's friend and family networks are motivating factors for keeping up with fitness activities. It's reasonable to suggest these can help inform wearable technology design and marketing. Nevertheless, opportunities are probably more around the latter because of the costs of any altruistic promotions.

Embedding the technology into spectacles in this study may have meant there was less of a cognitive trigger to exercise - people were likely to have forgotten it was there. A likely benefit of smartwatches is that they can help overcome failure to remember to exercise by providing on-screen reminders and prompts whilst exploiting the existing everyday habit of wearing a watch.


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