We’re well into the New Year and many people have turned to assorted wristbands and wearable fitness trackers to monitor their steps, sleep patterns or caloric burn in order to live a more healthful life. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that all these gadgets are likely superfluous, and your smart phone is more than sufficient for tracking fitness goals.
If you’ve purchased FitBits, FueldBands, or other wearable fitness devices (and everyone has, from housewives to lawyers, to young athletes) know that they may not be quite as accurate as your smart phone – at least according to research in JAMA. This is said to be especially true when measuring steps and calories.
Mitesh Patel, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of medicine and health care management at the University of Pennsylvania, comments:
“There is strong evidence that higher levels of physical activity are associated with weight loss. For most adults that want to track their general activity, smartphones will meet their needs.”
Penn researchers tracked 14 healthy adults as they walked on the treadmill, and compared 10 of the top-selling smartphone fitness applications and pedometers with wearable devices.
The results showed that smartphones were just as accurate and consistent as wearable devices. Furthermore, wearable devices had as much as a 22% variation in the range of step counts compared to the observed number of steps taken. There was also only a 6% difference in the range of the step counts from smartphones in comparison to observable steps.
Measuring our activity levels correctly is part of the way these apps can accurately measure the number of calories burned, and may give someone a false sense of accomplishment if they aren’t walking as far or taking as many steps as their wearable device tells them they are.
Then there’s the cost. Some of the fancier bracelets can cost $100 or more. While they may be more convenient than holding a big phone that you don’t want to drop, some individuals may still opt for the phone if they knew about this compared accuracy.
Patel, pointing to an obvious objection for people would prehpas reject smartphones as fitness trackers, said:
“Smartphones may be harder to carry with more vigorous activity such as running or biking, and that might be one reason an individual chooses to use a wearable device.”
But according to Live Science, a site that tracks scientific news, when fitness trackers first were introduced, workout enthusiasts were disappointed in the basic functions like step counters.
Wes Henderek, a market researcher at NPD Group told Live Science:
“A lot of [people] stopped using fitness trackers altogether because it wasn’t telling much more then they already knew.”
Moreover, smart phones nor wearable devices will necessarily drive someone to be more fit just because they are measuring calories or steps. Technology must engage an individual so that they will incorporate healthy behaviors and stick to them, not just observe what they are already doing. Plus, no two bodies are exactly the same, and therefore, two people doing nothing but sitting still will burn a different number of calories. Almost all calorie calculations can be off by 15-20%.
The solution? Eat healthful foods, stay active, detox, and try estimating the number of calories you are burning and consuming without holding steadfastly to what a technological device tells you. Ultimately, the way you feel and how your pants fit will let you know if you need to burn more calories through additional activity or cut back on those morning chai lattes.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.