Fitness Trackers: Trendy And Useful, But Are They Accurate? | KERA News

Fitness Trackers: Trendy And Useful, But Are They Accurate?

Apr 18, 2016

Millions of people use various types of fitness trackers (wrist bands, clip-ons and smart watches) to help keep in shape. However, some online product reviews question their reliability.

Andrew Cunha, a physical therapist with Parkland Hospital System, talked about how fitness trackers work, their reliability, and how not to use them.

Highlights from Andrew Cunha’s interview:

How fitness trackers work:  “It uses different things, similar to how your phone uses accelerometers where it can detect the different planes of motion that it’s in. But there are a couple of different types of trackers: One using that technology that basically counts steps. The other being one that actually monitors your heart rate and other vital signs as you’re going through activity.”

How fitness trackers differ from health monitor apps on smartphones:  “The difference is when you the trackers, you strap the tracker to a different part of your body that the tracker should be calibrated for. And then as it moves through space, it detect different motions and use its built-in software to estimate calories, whereas you can put your phone in your pocket, you can put your phone in your hand, you can throw it in a backpack. Those types of apps aren’t going to be as accurate just because of the variability with all the different places.”

Accuracy of fitness trackers: “Most agree they’re very accurate as far as tracking steps. Counting calories, that’s where the big debate comes in. Some they overestimate. Some say they underestimate. If it’s underestimating, basically the risk is that you’ll over-train or overdo it. But in that sense, you should listen to your body and if you think you’re doing too much, you probably are. That’s just one step, calorie burning. You also have to look into things like a balanced nutritional diet as well as activity levels to get the whole picture.”

Benefits of trackers without total accuracy:  “It raises your awareness for your activity level. It’ll get you more motivated and increase your accountability. “

For more information:

Fitness Tracker Pros and Cons 

Fitness Tracker 101: Everything You Need to Know About Your New Gadget 

NPR: A Fitit Saved His Life? Well, Maybe