Are All Fitness Trackers Created Equal?

Many of us have invested in the wristbands or other wearable devices that tell us how many steps we’ve taken, calories we’ve burned and other information. But an interesting new study that compared activity monitors found that while some are accurate when measuring step counts, others are way off. And few are more accurate than the convenient and inexpensive apps you can find on your cellphone.

What’s more, the researchers say, while many of us hope that these activity trackers may motivate us to become more active and healthier, none of them has proved able to persuade reluctant exercisers to start and stick with a workout routine.

The promise of these devices obviously relies heavily on their accuracy and ease of use. If the trackers tell us that we have moved more or less than we actually do, our responses may not be appropriate or ideal. If, for instance, the monitor says that we have burned more calories than we actually have that day, we may overeat and gain weight. If, alternatively, the monitor says that we have taken fewer steps in a day than we actually have, we may become discouraged, blame the device, throw it in a drawer and stop walking for exercise altogether.

Similarly, if a fitness monitor is difficult to program, requires frequent charging, feels uncomfortable or is pricey, many people who might benefit from more exercise will avoid buying or wearing the thing. As the authors of the new study point out, only about 1 to 2 percent of Americans currently own an activity monitor, and many stop using the device within a few months of buying it.

A majority of Americans own a smartphone, however, and recently, a number of apps have become available that promise to measure someone’s steps, calories and so on, much the way a wearable fitness tracker does, but at a lower cost and, presumably, with greater convenience.

The accuracy of these phone apps, however, has not been established, especially in comparison to the accuracy of the dedicated fitness trackers.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary