Put Away The Fitbit, Find Some Friends To Join You In Good Health!

We all have that aunt who just loves her fitbit: she loves it so much that she starts shaking her hand in the air while she slurps down the second or third margarita after noticing that she only has a few more “steps” to take before reaching the daily 10,000. Well believe it or not, she might be onto something. Fitness trackers aren’t as good as we think they are, for all the high technology they implement to determine whether or not we’re getting enough exercise to stay healthy.

Turns out friends are a better measure of overall health than traditional fitness tracking devices.

While that doesn’t mean you should slurp down margaritas, it does mean you should pay more attention to your personal relationships than your devices (big surprise there). Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame have concluded that these very devices lead people astray. Our heart rate won’t tell us whether or not we’re stressed, just like those 10,000 steps won’t tell us whether or not we’re getting enough daily exercise. 

Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications Nitesh V. Chawla said: “What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”

Researchers say the results could change how employers balance incentivizing with interpersonal relationships in the workplace. For example, providing fitbits may not be enough. Instead, it would be a good idea to create a forum where employees can share their life experiences to develop closer relationships, which will do more for overall health than those silly steps ever could. 

Machine learning models showed a 65% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s happiness, a 54% higher rate of predicting a person’s own predictions, a 55% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s attitude, and a 38% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s success — but only after accounting for social network structure and fitness tracking data together. 

What constitutes a social network structure? Every aspect of a typical relationship is included in this metric; is there a balance between the relationship and life, are the subjects close, are they connected by more than just devices, and do they give back to one another in the relationship. It turns out all this greatly affects how much activity a person obtains throughout the course of a day, which means the overall number of steps is typically greater for those people who form closer bonds!