Fitness Trackers Could Improve Work Productivity, Study Says

Woman wearing work tracker

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Key Takeaways

  • Looking at how your body responds to commute time could be helpful in boosting work performance, a recent study suggests.
  • Researchers also found that maintaining a consistent routine with arrival and departure to work affected stress levels.
  • Using tracker data could help in other ways, too, such as detecting flu early or lowering health risks.

If you suspect your stressful commute may be sabotaging your productivity, you are likely correct, according to a new study in the journal IEEE Pervasive Computing, and it's possible your fitness tracker could confirm it.

About the Study

Researchers looked at tracker data collected for nearly 300 people over a 1-year period prior to the pandemic. Focusing on their commute time as well as the 30-minute blocks before and after commutes, they compared variables like heart rate and activity levels to subsequent job performance.

Those who showed the highest stress before, during, and after commuting tended to have significantly lower work performance compared to those with lower levels. Another finding is that maintaining a consistent routine with arrival and departure to work tended to lower stress levels and subsequently boost work performance.

They noted that this is in line with previous research on commuting that suggests stress and frustration from that time period can lead to poor organizational skills, a less efficient workforce, and counterproductive work behavior.

Beyond Fitness

The recent study is not the first to suggest fitness trackers could be helpful for more than fitness, especially given their expanded capabilities since early versions. Today's trackers can not only provide data on calories and steps taken, but also sleep, body composition, and heart rate variability, among other results.

Tracking heart rate over time may be particularly useful for health, according to Jennifer Radin, PhD, of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. For example, if your resting heart rate changes in a meaningful way, it's often in response to inflammation in the body, which could be an early warning sign of illness like the flu.

Jennifer Radin, PhD

In turn, [these changes] may affect sleep quality, which would also show up on a tracker.

— Jennifer Radin, PhD

"In turn, [these changes] may affect sleep quality, which would also show up on a tracker," she says. "This can be used by individuals to detect infection, but it may also be useful for public health efforts in the future to see illness trends if data with identifying information taken out is made available."

She co-authored a study published in The Lancet suggesting that batched data like this could be useful for increasing healthcare resources in specific areas, as a way to shut down flu transmission during outbreaks.

Just Get Moving

Whether you are looking to improve work performance, boost sleep, or knock out early flu signs, a fitness tracker will likely prove useful. But even a stripped-down tracker like a pedometer may be a boon because it often helps increase activity, according to a study in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers looked at data from 1,300 clinical trial participants who were split into two groups. Half of them tracked steps for 3 months and the other half did not track at all. Participants ranged in age from 45 to 75 and were typically overweight or obese, but generally healthy.

Tess Harris, MD

Fitness trackers or even simple pedometers can help motivate you by giving you realistic feedback on what you are doing through regular monitoring.

— Tess Harris, MD

At a follow-up 4 years later, those using the pedometers were getting at least 30 minutes more moderate-intensity activity weekly than the non-tracking group. As a result, they were 66% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to the non-tracking control group.

"The main takeaway here is that it doesn’t take much to improve your health markers," says lead researcher Tess Harris, MD, a professor in the Population Health Research Institute at St. George’s University of London. "Fitness trackers or even simple pedometers can help motivate you by giving you realistic feedback on what you are doing through regular monitoring.”

She adds that by using data—no matter what your goal—you tend to build long-term habits that can lead to meaningful behavior change. Even if you decide to stop tracking, those healthy habits tend to linger, adds Dr. Harris.

That can be particularly true if you have seen benefits from making a shift toward better habits like arriving and departing work at the same time on a consistent schedule, increasing steps during the day, or just noticing your heart rate variability as flu season ramps up.

What This Means For You

Using your fitness tracker to detect stress before and after work could provide the information you need to improve work performance especially if you notice a great deal of stress, a new study suggests. You can use this information to help you make changes to your day like developing a more consistent routine and increasing your movement throughout the day. Be sure to contact a healthcare provider, though, if your fitness tracker alerts you to significant changes in your heart rate, blood pressure, or sleep quality.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mirjafari S, Bagherinezhad H, Nepal S, et al. Predicting job performance using mobile sensingIEEE Pervasive Comput. 2021;20(4):43-51. doi:10.1109/MPRV.2021.3118570

  2. Dartmouth College. Wearable tech confirms wear-and-tear of work commute.

  3. Radin JM, Wineinger NE, Topol EJ, Steinhubl SR. Harnessing wearable device data to improve state-level real-time surveillance of influenza-like illness in the USA: a population-based studyThe Lancet Digital Health. 2020;2(2):e85-e93. doi:10.1016/S2589-7500(19)30222-5

  4. Harris T, Limb ES, Hosking F, et al. Effect of pedometer-based walking interventions on long-term health outcomes: Prospective 4-year follow-up of two randomized controlled trials using routine primary care data. Basu S, ed. PLoS Med. 2019;16(6):e1002836. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002836

By Elizabeth Millard, CPT, RYT
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.