Getting a Move On: Do People with Smartwatches Exercise More?


    Aug 08, 2022

    The pandemic had a profound effect on how much people exercised and moved. Many of our usual routines were put on pause. Gyms were closed. And the daily walk or cycle to work fell away. Even running and other outdoor activities were affected by closed parks and varying degrees of lockdowns.

    Huawei wanted to more fully understand the effect of the pandemic on physical activity and the role that health and fitness technology can play for consumers. So, we surveyed more than 18,000 people in China, France, Germany, Italy, UK, and the US about their daily activities, how the pandemic had impacted them, and what kind of devices and apps they used.

    It comes as no surprise that many respondents felt their physical activity and exercise intensity drop due to pandemic-imposed lockdowns and restrictions. However, not all respondents saw their physical activity and exercise levels decline. Respondents who first started to use health and fitness wearables and apps during (and due to) the pandemic were twice as likely to increase their physical activity and exercise intensity than respondents who did not (see figure 1).

    Respondents who first started to use health and fitness wearables and apps during the pandemic were twice as likely to increase their physical activity and exercise intensity than respondents who did not.

    Source: Huawei / Figure 1: Impact of device first-use during the pandemic on exercise
    Legend: 11-point scale where 0 is the neutral midpoint (no change). Dark green/blue indicates “strong increase” & light dark green/blue indicates “some increase”

    As a rich body of evidence shows, a sufficient amount of physical exercise can help prevent major health issues such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. So, the boost in activity from wearables – despite movement restrictions – is likely to have helped many respondents maintain or improve their health.

    Above and beyond physical health, exercise also helps increase satisfaction with life and body image, with the data we collected indicating that this beneficial effect was more pronounced in women (see Figure 2).

    Source: Huawei / Figure 2: Satisfaction levels in people who do/do not exercise
    Legend: n (female no exercise) = 4,474; n (female + exercise) =4,814;
    n(male no exercise) =3,957; n (male + exercise) =5,113. *p<.10; **p<.05; ***p<.01 (t-test)

    In recent years, we have seen a shift from fitness trackers and smart wristbands with limited functionality to smartwatches with a far more comprehensive set of functions. As well as phone calls and games, today’s smartwatches can gather data on a large number of metrics for physical activity and health, including blood pressure, sleep quality, skin temperature, SpO2 (blood oxygen level), and provide advanced exercise functions such as AI running coaches.

    Analytics allows users to track metrics based on which they can plan positive lifestyle changes or optimize their exercise performance.

    The advantages of this versatility were reflected by the results of a survey of 237 smartwatch users, which found that smartwatch wearers display an average of five data items on their watch face. Our survey corroborates this result, as we found that users who self-track actively follow four to five metrics (see Figure 3).

    Source: Huawei / Figure 3: Improvement & tracking metrics
    Legend: Tracking means deliberate tracking rather than auto-tracking by a device/app.
    1 n=4,938. 2 n=2,064. 3 n=4,938

    We also found that, in particular, the easily interpreted tracking metrics delivered by today’s smartwatches add to their perceived helpfulness in identifying previously unknown health issues as well as achieving exercise goals.

    And of course, smartwatches also offer a certain style value that goes beyond the traditional wristwatches, as watch faces can be customized to fit a person’s style, a specific occasion, or activity.

    Source: Huawei / Arm yourself with charm: Today’s smartwatches provide style as well as functionality

    In light of these advantages, it is not surprising that smartwatches – second only to the omnipresent smartphone – were the most widely used health and fitness wearable in the six countries surveyed. In all of these countries except China, the smartwatch also leads the pack in terms of likely future usage. After a recent slowdown in growth, we may expect renewed acceleration in the segment. Our survey results indicate that further growth can also be expected for sports-focused headphones and smart scales, and also for niche products such as VR glasses and on-body monitors dedicated to health and fitness (see Figure 4).

    Source: Huawei / Figure 4: Perceived growth potential of smart devices & wearables
    Legend: N=18,358 1. Apps, watches & smart sports headphones used in the 4 weeks before the survey in % of all respondents per country. 2 Future use % where dark shading is “very likely to use” and light “somewhat likely to use” 3. Respondents who had not heard of a given device.

    Battery life remains the most pressing challenge for both the usability and the collection of meaningful long-term data that can potentially shape the role of wearables in personal healthcare. However, progress in this area is being made: Piezoelectrets present a promising pathway to at least support the battery life of coming generations of smartwatches.

    Huawei, our competitors, and many universities are working hard to provide these new power solutions.

    Before you go

    • Let us know in the comments: Do you use a smartwatch for health and fitness and, if so, what metrics do you track?
    • Download the full report here.

    Further reading

    About the survey

    The report is based on a CAWI (computer-assisted web interview) survey of 18,358 respondents in China, Germany, France, Italy, UK, and the US. The survey was administered by the German branch of the global market researcher YouGov. The survey ran from April 26, 2022 to May 5, 2022.

    Dr. Anna Schneider, who is professor of business psychology at Hochschule Fresenius University of applied sciences in Cologne, advised us on the ideation, design, curation, and analysis of the survey. She is also the first author of the study report.

    The data collection adhered to YouGov’s privacy policy. The data set received by Huawei contained anonymized data only. Huawei is neither a data controller nor data processor of respondents’ personal data.

    Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.


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