FitBits and other wearable fitness tracking devices are all the rage right now. According to market research firm NPD Group, one in 10 Americans currently owns one. Depending on the type, a tracker (also known as an “activity monitor”) can be used to record and monitor workouts, physical activity, calories burned, heart rate, food intake and sleep habits. But should you jump on the bandwagon?
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Unlike old-school pedometers that only detect forward motion, high-quality modern fitness trackers use sensors to simultaneously capture data from three distinct axes. This allows them to measure acceleration, or the intensity and direction of movement. Fitness trackers can detect patterns in the force of movement to determine specific activities (think running, walking and cycling). Calories burned are calculated using a formula that includes height, weight, gender and age.
While the technology is pretty cool, don't count on it to be highly accurate. In fact, recent research shows that most fitness trackers are wrong at least 10 percent of the time. The study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2014, looked at the calorie-counting accuracy of eight top trackers including Fitbit One, Jawbone Up and Nike FuelBand. Error ratings ranged from 9.3 to 23.5 percent.
MOTIVATION – YES, MAYBE
No question, some people find their fitness trackers seriously motivating. By making you aware of how much you are moving, eating and sleeping, they can encourage healthy changes. Just ask anyone who has found themselves marching around the house at 10pm to reach their goal of 10,000 steps a day.
However, if you are the kind of person who views exercise as an unpleasant chore, a fitness tracker may not do the trick. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, young overweight adults who used a wearable fitness tracker didn't exercise any more – and actually lost less weight – than those who didn't wear one.
FitBits and other wearable fitness trackers may not be perfect. But they do inspire many people to move more, eat less and get more sleep, which is a very good thing.