Fitbit Or FitFail? Are Wearable Activity Monitors Really Worth It?

Rayshell Clapper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Wearable lifestyle activity monitors are all the rage right now in the health community. Those who are interested and committed love to record their stats on devices like Fitbit and then share the data with their laptops or tablets to compile their data. People can see devices like the Fitbit all over the place because people are becoming more and more interested in their health and living a healthy lifestyle. While this is a natural step in the right direction for Americans, do these electronic activity monitors really work? New research suggests that, while they do provide some benefits, they may not be as great as we think. At the very least, they may need more development.

According to a statement from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), activity monitors from Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, Basis, BodyMedia, Misfit, Fitbug, Ibitz, Polar and Withings show great promise yet still may need some development. While they do much more than pedometers, which solely count the steps one takes and calculate on average how far one walked in a day, these wearable health devices are missing some key functions and applications.

Just what do these devices do? As the UTMB article explains, the really positive applications that wearable activity monitors perform include measuring and providing feedback on several fitness and health categories including calories burned, type of exercise undertaken, sleep quality, as well as measurements of heart rate, skin sweat, and body temperature. Some of these devices – such as those from Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike – even take their data collections a bit further by including goal-setting and progress feedback, social support and a variety of charts and progress trackers which are based on the users’ goals and are easy to read. Specifically, “The researchers found that most of the interactive tools in these devices’ apps for goal setting, self monitoring and feedback were in line with what health care professionals recommend for their patients. The number of available app tools was similar to the amount of techniques used by health care professionals to increase their patients’ physical activity.”

While all of this provides a definite bump up from the pedometer, there are some downfalls, or at least still underdeveloped parts of the current wearable activity monitors. First of all, most of the 13 commercially available devices that were part of the research did not have, or barely had, tactics connected to the successful increase of physical activity monitoring. These tactics include planning action steps to engage in and instruction on how to do the behavior or exercise, commitment, and problem solving.

The authors of the study – Elizabeth Lyons, senior author from UTMB, Zakkoyya Lewis, Jennifer Rowland (each from UTMB) and Brian Mayrsohn from the University of Central Florida – concluded that while these devices provide great potential, they are not as beneficial for health and fitness as they could be. In fact, the devices with the most features seemed to be less effective than those with fewer but more effective tools. In current devices, individual success seemed to be more correlated with individual preferences and needs such as water resistance, heart rate monitor or food logs, just to name a few. The research team concluded that more research was needed into the feasibility and benefit of wearable electronic activity monitor devices. As Lyons stated, “This content analysis provides preliminary information as to what these devices are capable of, laying a foundation for clinical, public health and rehabilitation applications. Future studies are needed to further investigate new types of electronic activity monitors and to test their feasibility, acceptability and ultimately their public health impact.”

Though there are many benefits to these devices, more research could only lead to better, more beneficial health and fitness activity monitors, which can only lead to healthier, more fit individuals.

For the full study, see the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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