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Multicolour Fitness Trackers on a white background

Fitness applications seem to be everywhere these days and they can track nearly everything about you. There are the usual suspects that help you track what you eat, your activity levels, your heart rate and your stress levels. More unusual apps help you monitor your bathroom habits, daily water intake, sleep quality, skills with a toothbrush and even your sex life. (Seriously, these apps exist.)

Some apps get quite creative with their methods of motivation. For example, with an app called Tep, you’re entrusted with the care of a virtual giraffe whose very life – not to mention his happiness – is dependent on your fitness activities. (It’s not unlike the Tamagotchi for those old enough to remember – and it probably induces just as much guilt if you miss a workout and the giraffe misses a meal or doesn’t earn that warm sweater he’s been hoping for.)

A recent check in the App Store in iTunes alone showed nearly 250 apps devoted to a health and fitness. A broader survey found closer to 1,000 apps available in the universe. With all these apps available to you, are you feeling the burns yet? Or, to ask the real, true burning question, do these apps actually make a difference?

It depends on who you ask. According to a recent study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research, those who use exercise apps are more likely to exercise when they have free time, as compared to those who do not use exercise apps. That suggests these apps may be fulfilling their destiny of getting people moving in a healthier direction.

And what about wearable technology? Mega forces like Apple, FitBit and Garmin continue to lead the charge in a crowded marketplace. As research continues to evaluate this new wave of health technology, data suggests they best support those individuals who have already committed to set health and fitness goals. According to research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Integrated Innovation Institute, health-related apps only help if you’re already doing the work to stay healthy.

Clearly, wearable technology and apps are not an instant cure for tackling big health problems in your employee population. Nor are they a quick fix for replacing unhealthy behaviors with new healthy behaviors. But if you have employees with a desire to improve their health, and your company culture is focused on supporting them, technology can be an effective element of your overall strategy.