BFE keynote: Wearable fitness technology is here to stay

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Gone are the days of hula chairs and ThighMasters at the desk, new technologies and wearable devices are playing into the benefits and wellness strategies of employers, Amy McDonough, Fitbit’s director of wellness, told conference goers at the 2014 Employee Benefits Forum & Expo, being held this week in Boca Raton, Fla.

McDonough says there are several reasons employers should develop innovative wellness programs using wearable technology – be it Fitbit, Jawbone UP, iPhones or Androids. But five reasons in particular are why this technology is here to stay, she said.

Because the data collected is automatic, verifiable, accurate, and above all, protected, current and future technologies far outreach the data-collecting abilities of the past.

No longer do employees need to wear a pedometer and self-report their information on paper or even via email. Now, with new wearable devices, data submission is automatic. “You can easily tie incentives to verifiable actions,” McDonough said, and “employees can focus on doing, not logging.”

Connected technology and social network effects are two other reasons the future of wearable technology is secure.

Because everything is connected and accessible in real time, employer and employees are both able to manage wellness data from anywhere with ease.

The social network effect also provides support from people around you. As an example, McDonough says Fitbit users that are connected to at least one friend through their device will take 27% more steps than users without a friend.

This moves the role of engagement beyond work walls, and no longer puts the onus on employers for engaging employees. Additionally, she adds, motivation will come from beyond workplace walls. It’s “really powerful in long-term change,” she said.

Many employees are also drawn to a personal connection with several designer brands that have partnered with wearable technology. Examples include Diane Von Furstenberg’s frames paired with Google Glass and Tory Burch with FitBit.

Also see: In case you missed it: Apple unveils Apple Watch and HealthKit app

Employees can express a personal identity and employers can tap into that force to better drive engagement.

Lastly, there is the sheer demand behind the technology. McDonough says nearly 60% of U.S. adults say they plan to buy a fitness tracker of some sort. “Capitalize on the consumer trend,” she advised. “The demand is there, use that trend to capitalize and encourage wellness.”

This year alone, 42.6 million activity tracking devices are expected to ship globally, McDonough said. “This is not a fad,” she added. 

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