We asked experts your burning questions about fitness trackers. Here's how the wearable devices could make you fitter and healthier.
Wondering if a wearable fitness tracker will help you on your journey to get fit? We asked the experts whether the latest fitness devices can really help us get healthy.
How accurate are these trackers?
It may vary by tracker (wearable device or app), many of which have not been publicly tested. Research on some smartphone apps, for instance, has turned up discrepancies in distances travelled, with apps either over- or underestimating how many steps you're taking when compared with more sophisticated treadmill measurements. Be cautious about focusing on specific numbers, especially when it comes to calories, as studies show apps (and even treadmills, for that matter) aren't necessarily accurate, says Mary Jung, assistant professor and health researcher at The University of British Columbia.
That said, both types of trackers are useful for recording your own trends. "As long as you're comparing yourself with yourself over time, you're going to see changes in your life relatively accurately picked up," says Greg Wells, associate professor and physiology and kinesiology researcher at the University of Toronto. These changes might include increasing the amount you walk or run each day, improving your heart rate and reducing the amount of time you sit. Wells has had success with the Apple Watch while training for an Ironman competition, and using apps such as Runkeeper and Strava for cycling.
Do they help us get more fit?
The short answer is yes, says Wells, because the data can be motivating. Adds Jung: "They provide an opportunity to see whether you are doing more or less than you did yesterday, and reminders encourage you to get up and be active."
That's particularly helpful for sedentary people who want to be more active, says Wells. About 85 percent of Canadians aren't active enough to help prevent chronic illness. "Knowing how much you're walking and moving is powerful information," he says, "and most people need to improve those numbers."
When don't they work?
Another major critique of trackers is they don't yet offer context for the numbers they record—why are Tuesdays your worst day for walking or why did your running pace slow down over the week? Not surprisingly, about a third of devices get abandoned after six months. But, as Wells points out, that's actually not a bad statistic. "It means about 70 percent are still using them," he says. "That's a massive success story."
How can we overcome the devices' (and our own) shortcomings?
Choose the right tracker. "The best ones will provide users with weekly or monthly reports so they can self-monitor and use the data to self-reflect," says Jung. If you're honest with yourself, you can see if what you're doing is getting you toward your goals, she adds.
Do I have to wear my device every day?
No, you can wear it strategically—one day a week or even every two months. If you want to wear it daily, go for it, says Wells, "but if you feel it's onerous or annoying, put it in your desk drawer and set a reminder in your computer to wear it again in six weeks to see how things are going."