Tracking accuracy and reliability do matter

There is no doubt that a wrist tracker can change the user’s behavior. Tracking any metric that provides a sense of instant accomplishment is a very powerful motivational tool. The makers of fitness trackers have been known to say that it is not the figures that matter but the pattern. They consider actual step-count accuracy a secondary issue, the primary issue being behavior modification in an upward trend. In essence, they are saying the tracker around your wrist is not so much a “tracker” but an “encourager.” It is simply there to push you to take more steps tomorrow than you did today. But here is the secret for any fitness tracker – the metric must be ACCURATE.

Some wearables can address the accuracy problem by mentioning that newer wrist trackers use optical blood flow technology to take your pulse so as to get a reading of how hard your body works. While they are partially correct, many users and manufacturers have equally outlined the problems with the optical blood flow and the variance found in their readings.

Many of the name-brand fitness trackers, while accurate (or close to accurate) monitoring the heart at rest, were over 50% inaccurate in their attempt to monitor the BPM of the heart during exercise. The gold standard of accurate exercise tracking, according to the National Institute of Health, is training in your target heart rate zone. They say it will help you reach your goals faster. But in order to train in your zone, you need a fitness tracker that will be accurate and reliable – in real-time.

You have seen fitness trackers advertised and you have seen your friends wearing them but you are still wondering whether this piece of technology is worth the investment. While it is great to be able to track and record your latest workout data, how can you ensure it leads to the long-term behavioral change that you are looking for? Accelerometers and step counters will encourage you to get off the bus one stop early and walk but they do not drive exercise behavior because they do not track intensity.

The stats suggest that fitness trackers do not often lead to long-term behavioral change like they promise. Research found that one-third of American consumers who bought a wearable product stopped using it within six months. If you are considering buying a fitness tracker or you have already bought one, how do you stop yourself becoming one of those statistics?

Look at your gadget as something that can aid you with your fitness goals rather than something that magically transform your health and fitness. You have a tool that can be brilliant for motivation, but it will not build you muscle or lose you 3kg overnight.

While most fitness trackers come with pre-set step goals, these are often unrealistic, as each individual varies so much. They also do not take into account for the progress you want to make and the specific results you want to achieve. You can either set your goals yourself or pair up with a real-life personal trainer, who will work in tandem with fitness trackers to personalize your targets.

It has been shown that people are more likely to achieve long-term behavioral change if other people are invested in their progress. Not only do you get support and encouragement but it can help health and fitness feel a lot less like a trial and more like a recreational activity. Researchers have discovered that noting down what you consume daily has an effect on how much you eat. Keeping a food diary as well as using a fitness tracker makes you more conscious of what you eat and as a result you are more likely to make healthier choices.

Companies like Activinsights or Quardio decided for, typically more expensive, medical-grade devices proven by clinical research. They deliver patient lifestyle insights to healthcare professionals using validated, professional wearables. These devices embody techniques based on established research to determine a wide range of everyday behaviors and can be used in a range of applications. Through providing objective, validated lifestyle data it can empower individuals to changes lives for the better. Is this a future of wearable healthcare technology?

In parallel, as the sensing capabilities of wearable devices improve, there is increasing interest in their application in medical settings. Capabilities such as heart rate monitoring may be useful in hospitalized patients as a means of enhancing routine monitoring or as part of an early warning system to detect clinical deterioration.