One of the hottest fitness crazes to sweep the country in recent years has been the meteoric rise of wearable devices for exercise tracking. Devices like Fitbit, Jawbone, Moov Now, and Garmin Vivoactive have flooded the market with a myriad of options for tracking your fitness activities. Maybe you’re someone looking to get in shape wondering which of these many options is best for you. Maybe you’re a trainer, or wellness coach wrestling with which is best to recommend to your clients or members. In either case, before you try to answer this question, it’s important to take a step back and ask an even more fundamental question –do I even need a wearable? Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania did a study to answer this very question and their findings may surprise you.
Specifically, what the researchers at Penn wanted to know was this: since 64% of American adults now own a smartphone (which is up an amazing 29% from just four years ago), do they also need a wearable device? Or, are the smartphones most people already have just as good at tracking exercise as the wearables? The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), tested ten of the top-selling smartphone apps and wearable devices in the United States by having 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, and then recording their step counts. Each of the study participants had the following devices on during the treadmill trials:
- Waistband: one pedometer and two accelerometers
- Wrists: three wearable devices
- Pants pockets: two smartphones, one running three apps and the other running one
The researchers compared the number of steps recorded on the devices to the actual number of steps taken and the results were eye-opening. The data from the smartphones was only slightly different than the actual step counts. All were within a range of 6.7% above or below the actual number of steps taken, with some much closer. But, the data from the wearable devices differed more. All underestimated the steps, with a range of 1.5% below to a shocking 22.7% below the actual number of steps taken.
“Since step counts are such an important part of how these devices and apps measure physical activity, including calculating distance or calories burned, their accuracy is key,”said senior author Mitesh S. Patel “Compared to the one to two percent of adults in the U.S. that own a wearable device, more than 65 percent of adults carry a smartphone. Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors.”
So, if you’re looking to find an inexpensive and reliable way to track your steps, it doesn’t necessarily mean dropping a couple hundred bucks on a wearable. In fact, the best answer may already be in your pocket.Follow us: