How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers & Should You Use Them?

by Matt Weik

Fitness trackers have become quite popular lately as more and more people are checking their statistics thanks to the introduction of innovative technology. Unfortunately, even with today’s technology helping to improve health and fitness levels, most people are still not physically active throughout the day. In fact, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, studies show that less than 5% of adults participate in half an hour of physical activity every day.

But what do the latest studies say about the accuracy of fitness trackers? Are they really worth the money and provide an accurate read and measure of health and fitness markers? Many fitness trackers on the market today provide us with friendly reminders to get up and move when we sit too long, they track steps, estimate calories burned, measure our heart rate, and give us a basic read on how active we are.

Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the benefits of fitness trackers and whether they’re good enough to spend our hard-earned money on.

The Benefits of Fitness Trackers

Wearable fitness trackers offer solutions to those interested in working hard towards their health and fitness goals. Here are a few benefits you may gain from using a fitness tracker.

1. Personal Accountability

Many fitness trackers keep track of your goals and progress to encourage you psychologically to do more steps than the day before, run faster than yesterday, or get up and move when you’ve been immersed in sedentary work for too long at your desk. In fact, some studies have found that even by just wearing a basic pedometer, physical activity can increase by as much as 30% per day.

2. Eating Healthy

Fitness trackers do more than just track your workouts. Think along the lines of a non-wearable fitness tracker like MyFitnessPal. Such technology can log your food and water consumption. Nutrition is just as important (even more so) as exercise when trying to live an active lifestyle.

Through these types of fitness trackers, you can also see how your calorie intake and workouts align. In that case, you know you are losing weight and getting results (or not) as they spit out data for you to view.

3. Motivation

One of the main reasons people tend to give up on exercise is a lack of motivation. A fitness tracker gives a visual of your progress and achievements each day. Seeing your progress every day can enhance motivation to stay committed and push harder as you move closer to your goals.

4. Tracks Sleep

It is not just nutrition and exercise that fitness trackers can keep track of. It has the ability to track your sleep patterns, the duration of your sleep, each time you woke up during the night, and how deep or light your sleep was. When you recognize your sleep patterns, you can have a good night’s sleep and improve your mood the very next day by correcting any sleep issues you may have.

5. Stay Connected

Some wearable fitness trackers come with in-built Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This allows you to receive text messages, incoming calls, or emails without looking at your phone. You can keep your phone away when you are working out, as you are always connected via your fitness tracker, so you won’t miss out on any important calls or messages that would require your immediate attention.

How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers?

According to Fortune Business Insights, fitness trackers accounted for a $36 billion contribution to the world economy in 2020. But how accurate are they? Scientists have done various research on them, and the overall result shows that accuracy is variable, depending on the tech used and what the tracker is opting to measure.

Any activity that you do increases the number of calories you burn, although some scientists now question this popular theory. But assuming that calories burnt are still a valid measurement, any fitness tracker has to accurately measure your activity level to be able to calculate it.

According to a 2020 review of the newest research on trackers, it was found that arm-worn or wrist-worn fitness trackers measuring calories burned varied in accuracy depending on the task being done. When the body movement was the only parameter being measured, they were less accurate than when the fitness tracker also included a heat sensor or a heart rate monitor.

Wrist-worn devices are going to record a lot of extraneous movement that has little or nothing to do with physical activity. Even if you wear a tracker on your non-dominant wrist (which is the recommendation), it will register all your hand movements and gestures as physical activity.

Picking up a fitness tracker that includes a heart rate sensor is much cheaper and more accessible in today’s market, but how accurate are these sensors?

Fitness trackers can be quite inaccurate compared to your actual heart rate when you are working out. When you get sweaty, the tracker may fail to record your heart rate precisely. Yet, there are many studies that say fitness trackers can be great at measuring heart rate at rest or in recovery. Still, the efficacy is low as the intensity of your exercise increases — take walking versus running, for example.

Whether a fitness tracker is accurate or not depends on many factors, but there is one advantage that the researchers seem to agree on. According to a 2018 review, it was found that people who used trackers tended to become more active, improving their step count, moderate and vigorous exercise levels, and their calories burnt rate.

There are many fitness trackers on the market for you to choose from. You’ll need to do some research on what’s available and the most suitable for your needs. While fitness trackers aren’t 100% accurate, they can be a useful tool when used regularly.