man checking fitness trackerWe’ve come a long way from the days when you attached a step-counter to your belt loop!

Most everyone in the gym seems to be checking the wearable computer on their wrist. Your great aunt is texting you about the number of steps she got in today, according to her Fitbit. There are heart rate monitors, sleep monitors, hydration monitors, and so much more – all delivering data from your body as you go through your day.

Naturally, this raises a key question: Just how accurate are these data points anyway?

This was one of the issues considered in a 2018 study in Frontiers in Physiology.

The researchers evaluated 89 devices and found that over 90% had never been formally validated. Even fewer had any published reliability testing. Naturally, this raises issues of the reliability and validity of the information they deliver. Commentary in Natural Medicine Journal thus advised that

Unless otherwise confirmed, clinicians should not assume that data generated by wearable devices is accurate.

But other research suggests a different benefit of wearables: They may help you stay aware of both your body and health behaviors, and even encourage making healthier choices.

One large study tracked data from 455, 341 individuals in the Walgreens Balance Rewards for healthy choices (BRhc) program, an incentivized, web-based self-monitoring program. While 34% of users quit after entering just a single activity, those who kept up with it kept up with it well.

Among users who tracked at least two activities on different dates, the median length of participating was 8 weeks, with an average of 5.8 activities entered per week. Furthermore, users who participated for at least twenty weeks (28.3% of users; 33,078/116,621) consistently entered 8 to 9 activities per week.

Here’s the kicker: While most users entered their data manually, “individuals who entered activities automatically through supported devices or apps participated roughly four times longer.”

A more recent study of patients with chronic cardiometabolic disease likewise found that wearables had a positive impact. Analyzing 35 studies involving more than 4500 participants, its authors found significant increases in both steps per day and moderate to vigorous physical activity when using the devices.

Bottom line? While the info your tracker gives you might not be quite advanced enough yet to be a reliable source of medical data, it can help you stay on track with your everyday healthy habits.

Whether or not you opt for a wearable device, daily check-ins to your physical activity and a general awareness of your health goes a long way to youthfulness and longevity.


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