Fitness Wearables

Fitness wearables have seen a substantial rise in popularity in the past few years.

Natalie Hollingshead May 1, 2017

At a recent workshop, Boise State University professor Shawn Simonson chatted with two women who were Fitbit buddies. Both monitored their daily activity via a Fitbit activity tracker and held the other accountable to stay active. Simonson, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Boise State, was encouraged by this practice — until one of the women announced she was going for a walk. The other woman didn’t want to join in, but sent her Fitbit on the walk with her buddy so she could get some “steps” in, too.

More Than Just a Fashion Accessory

“Yes, the steps showed up on her Fitbit, but who is really benefiting?” Simonson says. Humorous anecdotes aside, the professor hopes most people are using activity trackers as more than just a fashion accessory. High-tech activity trackers from brands such as Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike and Garmin are also called fitness wearables. These electronic devices track fitness-related metrics such as the number of steps taken during a day or calories consumed or, in the case of high-end models, track heartbeat data and quality of sleep. Think of them as a pedometer on steroids — but strictly legal, of course.

Fitness wearables have seen a substantial rise in popularity in the past few years. According to Juniper Research, the devices will be used by approximately 110 million people worldwide by the end of 2019. Fans rave about how their device helped them lose weight or sleep better or simply remember to move more during the day.

But fitness wearables aren’t a magic bullet that will instantly help you get more fit. Still, anything that promotes physical activity is a good thing, Simonson says, and fitness wearables can be a great tool to improve your activity.

Is it time for you to jump on the bandwagon? Read on for expert tips.

1. Buy and Wear It Right

Most activity trackers are designed to be worn in a particular place: around the wrist, on your shoe or around the chest in the case of heart rate monitors. They aren’t nearly as accurate if worn incorrectly, Simonson says, so make sure you’re wearing them right. Also, fitness wearables aren’t great at tracking all activities; skiing and weightlifting, for instance, are tricky. Finally, not all fitness trackers are created equal. Devices with GPS are usually best.

2. Calories Still Count

If you’ve purchased a fitness wearable that claims to track calories consumed, take that number with a grain of salt. The calorie conversions supplied by some activity trackers are largely inaccurate, says Josh West, associate professor of health science at Brigham Young University. Usually, you’ve burned less calories than your device tells you. “People take the device at face value and go eat a doughnut, but then there is an imbalance because you didn’t really burn that many calories,” West says.

Being active is important but what you eat matters tremendously, says West, who is developing the equivalent of an activity tracker that tracks how many times people put food to their mouth with their hands.

3. Revamp Your Goals

A goal to get 10,000 steps in every day is a great starting place. But once you’re regularly getting in those steps, take it to the next level. “We need to make things progressively more challenging because the body adapts pretty well,” Simonson says. If you go on walks try new terrain or another activity, like riding a bike, that can provide an additional challenge.

4. Use Data to Inform Behavior

Rather than simply looking at the data, West suggests using the data to make better decisions for an active lifestyle throughout the day. If you haven’t met your goal, park further away or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

5. Know Your ‘Why"

Activity trackers are a useful tool, but some people need more motivation than a number on their wrist. “Just putting on an activity monitor may be enough to get some people started but it’s not enough to keep them going,” Simonson says. Stay motivated by figuring out why you’re not exercising and why you want to exercise. Some people may need an additional layer of feedback beyond the device, such as an accountability buddy. Just don’t send your device on a walk with them instead of you.

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