Ask the expert: Can wearables encourage healthier habits?

Image of Professor Greg Whyte
Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance
02 May 2018

white paperclip icon

This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

Can wearable tracking devices - or smartwatches – help us to change our behaviour for the better? Yes they can, says Professor Greg Whyte, a sports scientist, former Olympian, and brand ambassador for Fitbit. Here he explores the theory behind wearables and behaviour change, and how they’re encouraging us to develop healthier habits.


How easy is it to change our behaviour?

Behaviour change is probably one of the biggest challenges we face in society. It’s incredibly difficult to do. It’s incredibly complexed, and there are lots of ways of changing behaviour. Wearable tech is one of those areas where we can make a big difference on a mass population perspective.

Where are wearables making a difference?

We know we should be targeting ten thousand steps a day in general, and what we know it is where the target is. What wearable tech tells us is how many steps we are currently doing. What it also tells us is that if we walk to work rather than get the bus how many steps that adds. So what it does do by a process of feedback is that it basically educates us as to what our behaviour is, and how we can change that behaviour.

Are there any other motivation triggers?

It also provides feedback. So some of the wonderful things that come along with Fitbit for example, is that you can set your own goals, and it will celebrate when you reach those goals.  And actually celebrating reaching goals is incredibly important for motivation, and motivation underpins commitment to that task, and commitment to that behaviour change. And if you’re motivated, in other words if you are rewarded for reaching those goals ,you’re more motivated, you’re more committed, so therefore you’re more likely to achieve going forward. So I think wearable tech plays a really important part in that massive behaviour change piece, in actually personalising it; it’s my information, it’s about me, I’m learning about me. So therefore when I make those changes, those changes are positive for me.

What does the evidence say?

There is some evidence to suggest that it doesn’t work. There is some evidence to suggest it works incredibly well, and I think what we’re trying to do is pick the bones out of that, and find our way through it. I think for me the answer is that wearable tech is not for everybody, but wearable tech can have a very positive impact on people who actually like wearable tech, who know how to use it, and then actually employ the changes in behaviour which will give them that improvement in their quality of life, and their health.

Really what it’s pointing towards as everything in life, it’s about a bespoke, individualised approach. And so what we know is that actually wearable tech is not for everyone, but for a huge number of people it really does work, and it’s about making sure that it works for you. 

Image of Professor Greg Whyte
Professor Greg Whyte
Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance

Did you find our advice helpful?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our healthy lifestyle articles.