Can fitness trackers improve life expectancy of elders?

Friday 19 Jul 19


Rasmus Tolstrup Larsen
PhD student
Department of Public Health
A systematic review and meta-analysis show that physical activity monitors enhance amount of physical activity in older adults

The review found that groups of older adults who use physical activity monitors, such as step counters, fitness-trackers and other monitors were moderately more active than the control groups. The paper was published in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity [1].

Physical inactivity is a growing worldwide problem and it has been reported to cause 9% of all premature death [2]. The amount of daily physical activity decreases with age and one in eight European adults age 55 or older never or hardly ever, engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Functional decline is expected and unavoidable in older adults, but regular exercise can minimize the physiological effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle and thus increase life expectancy by improving function of daily living and by slowing progression of disease and disability [3].

Among older adults, the use of physical activity monitoring (e.g. using step counters, wearables, fitness trackers or similar) has been reported to be feasible [4, 5] and several recently published randomized controlled trials report promising results [6–11]. However, the effect of physical activity monitor-based interventions in older adults remains unclear and has yet to be systematically reviewed.

The authors of this paper performed a systematic search in the databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL, and CENTRAL. Twenty-one studies with 2,783 participants were included. Physical activity monitor-based interventions had a moderate effect compared to control interventions, corresponding to an average increase of 1,297 steps per day in the intervention groups. No impact of patient and intervention characteristics on the effect estimates were found, which means that the current evidence supports the use of physical activity monitors to a broad population, but the individual effect might be different.

In summary, it seems safe, effective and feasible to use physical activity monitors in physical activity interventions in older adults and clinical decision makers should consider using these when trying to increase the public health.

  1. Larsen RT, Christensen J, Juhl CB, Andersen HB, Langberg H. Physical activity monitors to enhance amount of physical activity in older adults – a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act. 2019;16:7.
  2. Lee I-M, Shiroma EJ, Lobelo F, Puska P, Blair SN, Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. Lancet Lond Engl. 2012;380:219–29.
  3. Chodzko-zajko WJ, Proctor DN, Singh MAF, Minson CT, Nigg CR, Salem GJ, et al. Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:1510–30.
  4. Batsis JA, Naslund JA, Gill LE, Masutani RK, Agarwal N, Bartels SJ. Use of a Wearable Activity Device in Rural Older Obese Adults: A Pilot Study. Gerontol Geriatr Med. 2016;2:233372141667807.
  5. McMahon SK, Lewis B, Oakes M, Guan W, Wyman JF, Rothman AJ. Older Adults’ Experiences Using a Commercially Available Monitor to Self-Track Their Physical Activity. JMIR MHealth UHealth. 2016;4:e35.
  6. Rowley TW., Lenz EK., Swartz AM., Miller NE., Maeda H., Strath SJ. Efficacy of an Individually Tailored, Internet-Mediated Physical Activity Intervention in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Appl Gerontol Off J South Gerontol Soc. 2017;:733464817735396.
  7. Tabak M., Vollenbroek-Hutten MM., van der Valk PD., van der Palen J., Hermens HJ. A telerehabilitation intervention for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Clin Rehabil. 2014;28:582–91.
  8. Mutrie N., Doolin O., Fitzsimons CF., Grant PM., Granat M., Grealy M., et al. Increasing older adults’ walking through primary care: results of a pilot randomized controlled trial. Fam Pract. 2012;29:633–42.
  9. Peel NM, Paul SK, Cameron ID, Crotty M, Kurrle SE, Gray LC. Promoting Activity in Geriatric Rehabilitation: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Accelerometry. PLOS ONE. 2016;11:e0160906.
  10. Nishiguchi S, Yamada M, Tanigawa T, Sekiyama K, Kawagoe T, Suzuki M, et al. A 12-Week Physical and Cognitive Exercise Program Can Improve Cognitive Function and Neural Efficiency in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015;63:1355–63.
  11. Furber S., Butler L., Phongsavan P., Mark A., Bauman A. Randomised controlled trial of a pedometer-based telephone intervention to increase physical activity among cardiac patients not attending cardiac rehabilitation. Patient Educ Couns. 2010;80:212–8.
19 AUGUST 2019