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Smart Phone Apps May Be Just As Accurate As Fitness Trackers - But Do They Really Motivate?

One of the top fitness topcis in 2014, and presumably in 2015 as well, has been fitness trackers, the likes of Fit Bit, Jawbone, Nike Fuel Band, etc. Of course, pedometers have been around for a while, but these newer trackers added a slew of benefits like sleep tracking, measuring exercise as well as walking, and complementary apps that enable you to track other fitness metrics like weight, nutrition, and hydration. But do these new trackers accurately measure your steps? A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assocation tested them to find out.

The study tested three of the most popular fitness trackers - Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike - against pedometers, accellerometers (activity trackers predominately used to measure activity during research studies), and several iPhone and Android apps. Participants wore multiple devices while walking on a treadmill, as researchers counted each of their 2,000 total steps. They found that some of the fitness trackers were off by as much as 20%, and that others, while more accurate, fared no better than the inexpensive smartphone apps. This is good for consumers, says Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who oversaw the study, because the smartphones it turns out are “an easy, less expensive, but still accurate” way to track activity.

Of course, regardless of whether or not they accurately measure activity, the bigger question is: do fitness trackers and apps actually motivate people to exercise more? The resounding asnwer thus far has been "not really". Pedometers have been available for under $10 for years, and they never quite resulted in a fitness boom. Of course, there are exceptions. Several IHRSA member clubs have used fitness tracker technology to run challenge programs in their clubs, with great results. So maybe the secret to a fitness tracker is just having a good supportive community and incentive to use it. Which, of course, sounds like just the job for a health club.

Read the full article on the New York Times Well Blog


Alex Black

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Alex is a registered dietitian (RD) and physical activity advocate with experience as a college athlete, clinical dietitian, CrossFit coach, and nutrition blogger.

Reader Comments (1)

Great article. As a trainer and business owner, I have found that using wearables, in conjuction with training, helps keep clients accountable and motivated while away from the trainer. However, the client has to be willing to use the device. Some clients are just unwilling. Motivation is like learning any other skill. You have to nurture it, strengthen it, practice it, evaluate it, and stay consistent.
February 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Kraman

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