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Fitness trackers: Good but not perfect

Dr. Veita Bland / June 1, 2017

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Fitness trackers can help track one’s health and some have become fashion statements.

Fitness trackers can help track one’s health and some have become fashion statements.

The fitness tracker craze is very strong and seems to be getting stronger. It seems to be a sign that we as Americans are hopefully getting into a good space as we work on our physical fitness.

The trackers, at one time, were quite bulky and unattractive. Well, that has been addressed. Developers have invented ever visually impressive models that communicate with our phones and computers. The prices have risen for some but basic models remain affordable for most. Some of the trackers have become fashion statements. They are sleek and pair well with jewelry for those fitness conscious fashionistas.

I personally have joined the craze as I wanted to see if walking up and down my hallways at work was providing me with the 10,000 steps a day that I set as my goal. For me, I get only 6,000 steps via my working life. That leaves me to try to find the time to get those other 4,000 steps in. I find that my most productive time, when I can get my 10,000 steps in, is on the weekend. These are the days I clean my house and wash clothes.
I have wondered if the trackers were accurate as far as the counting of steps because some days I just know I have walked more than it says. I wonder if the fact I am carrying an IPad and papers around are decreasing my arm movement and thus are decreasing my registered steps.

In a recent edition of the Journal of Personalized Medicine, seven models of wrist band tracking devices were analyzed. They looked at the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, MIO Alpha 2, Pulse on and Samsung Gear S2.

This is an important and upcoming area. Many people now want healthcare providers to include their data from their fitness trackers in their medical records and to use this data in determining plans for their healthcare. The question we as healthcare providers must know is how accurate is this information? There can be several variables. Each of these devices has its own proprietary software that they use. The researchers wanted to see if the heart rates were monitored correctly, among other parameters. They considered them accurate if they were within a 5 percent range of their standard.

They also wanted to know if the calculations on the amount of calories burned were accurate. They discovered that the heart rate numbers are pretty good on all of the devices tested.

The data was not as good for the numbers that tracked expenditure of energy or calories burned. Again, the different software may have made this task of comparing the devices impossible.

If you have a real interest in this,check out the May edition of the Journal of Personalized Medicine online and see where your particular device faired.

The take home message is that although this information is indeed valuable, we need to maybe step back and make sure this information is accurate. I need to make sure that this information is indeed accurate in order to make life decisions about my patient’s health. I encourage people to use trackers as a means of keeping up with their personal goals but do not be upset with me as I try to determine where the information fits in my calculations for your life.

It is noted that in an earlier study, that the usage of these devices did not result in weight loss.


Dr. Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on North Carolina A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at ideas@blandclinicpa.com.




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