The use of wearable activity trackers may or may not improve fitness or cardiovascular health on their own. The jury is still out on long-term benefits of FitBits and similar devices. The immense market potential for wearables — $70+ billion according to one report — is driven by dollars and manufacturers’ focus on the hardware and software, including the biometric sensors, user interface, reports, and style. Implementation and results are left to the users. At least one new study shows a clear benefit from trackers in rehab programs for patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Researchers at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria’s School of Management in Steyr, Austria, and the CardioMed Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre in Linz, Austria tracked the physical performance of 29 patients diagnosed with CVD. The patients were males aged 40 to 80 who were able to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity. The participants consisted of a 13 person study group who used wrist-worn activity trackers and a control group of 16 who did not use trackers. All participants had cardiac stress tests at the beginning, middle, and end of a 12-week test period. While both groups showed improved performance at the end of the test, the study group participants had significantly greater gains than the control group. At the end of the 12-week period, the control group had a 4.7% improvement while the study group improved 19.5%. The study report was published in PLOS One.

As the authors mention in the study discussion, this was just one study, and the results may not generalize to CVD patients who are not in rehab programs or to the population in general. Replicated and additional studies with tighter controls and longer durations are just a few of the requirements for a substantial body of research on which to base generalizations about short, medium, or long-term benefits of fitness wearables.