Wearable fitness trackers may not be a reliable or easy to use as smartphone apps at assisting in wellness, a new study reveals. Although many pedometers, heartbeat monitors and other devices can provide accurate measurements of current body conditions, some could be highly inaccurate, providing false readings. These devices are also unable to motivate users to begin, and stick with, fitness activities.
Inaccuracies in standalone devices can also be detrimental to exercise routines, researchers stated. If a pedometer reads a lower distance than a person actually walked during a day, a user may feel frustrated, and stop exercising. If the recorded mileage is higher than the distance completed, a person may cut back on exercise, or consume high-caloric foods as a "reward" for a job well done.
Fitness monitors can be expensive, difficult to program, and require frequent charging. Because of this, many people do not us the devices, or stop using the devices soon after purchase. Less than two percent of Americans own fitness monitors.
Smartphones are owned by a majority of adult Americans, and several fitness applications are now available on various platforms. These apps are able to measure footsteps, heart rate, calories burned, and other health conditions traditionally measured with fitness monitors.
Accuracy of smartphone applications had received little confirmation from outside sources, until now.
A total of 14 subjects were studied, as they took part in fitness activities, and the accuracy of a wide range of monitors were examined.
Investigators at the University of Pennsylvania and the Perelman School of Medicine examined three popular fitness trackers - the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP24 and Fitbit Flex. To see how these compared to older designs of fitness tracking devices, they also studied the performance of several varieties of accelerometers, and a pedometer. Four applications were also measured as part of the study, including the Moves app, available for Android and iPhone.
Participants walked on a treadmill at a steady three miles per hour, while their steps were manually counted. Pedometers and accelerometers were found to be mostly accurate, while one fitness tracker - Fuelband - was found to under-report steps by up to 20 percent. For apps, Moves was found to slightly over-report the number of steps taken by a user. FitBit Zip and FitBit One were found to be the most accurate apps.
Many physical fitness monitors can cost well over $100, and several smartphone applications can be free, or cost just a few dollars. This new study shows the virtual apps are usually just as accurate, or more so, than the pricier options.
Investigation of the benefits of smartphone apps compared to traditional fitness monitors was profiled in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama).