Knowledge is power. Knowing what to do with regard to physical fitness is the first step in achieving our goals. So let us take a step in the right direction.  It has been said that the average person takes about 2000 steps to complete a mile (1.6km). One school of thought that originated from a Japanese pedometer manufacture in the 1960s is that one should accumulate at least 10000 steps per day .1 This means you would have to hop, step, walk, jog or run approximately 5 miles (8km) every 24hrs.

The American college of sports medicine notes that increasing your step count by at least 2000 until you get to 7000 or more steps per day is beneficial to your health.2 This is a case where more is always better.

So what’s with all the counting?

Fitbit’s blaze, Misfit Ray, Mio Slice, OMSigna OMbra, Belty Good Vibes smart belt, Withings go with E ink, Mira vivid wellness bracelet and pendant are just a few of new fitness trackers for 2016.3 You can strap on the wrist as a watch or bracelet; wear as a necklace; use them to hold up your paints; hook them up to your clothing, or just wear as a sports bra and trot along. These personal activity or fitness trackers are wearable devices that automatically record activity and biometric data using accelerometers, global positioning systems (GPS), inclinometers, altimeters and more. They are everywhere. We all seem to be counting something these days so let us explore their utility, strengths and pitfalls by looking at Dave’s story.

Dave is a 33 year old software engineer who was very active in college but the demands of his work have left him struggling to stay on top of his fitness. He enlists his fiancé Nadia to work with him to become more active. She is a nurse who works three long shifts a week and puts in overtime occasionally. She too has not achieved her fitness goals over the last several years and is determined to get back in shape for her wedding. They talk to their friends about their fitness goals  and are advised to get fitness trackers. Nadia buys 2 fitness trackers and gives one to Dave for his birthday.

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Join the movement #allfitmdlifestyle

They strap on the fitness trackers and start counting. They set out to increase their weekly step count by 2000 until they both reach 10,000. As a nurse, Nadia is always on her feet and easily makes the step wise increase but Dave who primarily works at a desk finds it hard to meet the count. After 3 weeks, Dave suggests that they work out on Nadia’s off days as a way of boosting his step count. Also, Nadia suggests that Dave uses the stairs to get up to his 3rd floor office. To further increase his step count, he decides to park on the east end parking lot that is 0.2 miles from the main office building.

2 months later Dave and Nadia are at their goal of 10000 steps but Nadia has not noticed any significant change in her weight so she decides to focus more on the energy expenditure (EE) function of the fitness tracker. She counts her daily caloric intake and compares it to the estimated EE (how many calories she burns) reported by the fitness tracker. She uses MyFitnesspal a free calorie counting webapp  www.myfitnesspal.com to keep track of her progress. After several months of relying on the fitness tracker to measure her EE she gives up because she sees no results. She decides to focus more on what she can control: what she eats. #allfitmdnutrition

Dave on the other hand is happy with his progress over several months. However he notices that he is more tired at work and attributes that to his increased physical activity. He goes to bed at 11pm and wakes up at 7am every morning. However, the sleep monitor indicates that he only sleeps about 6hours per night. Dave is skeptical about the accuracy of the sleep monitor.

After a year of using their fitness trackers Dave and Nadia wonder if the purchase of these wearable gadgets was worth it.

Fitness trackers that have sleep monitors have been found to have as much as 86% accuracy in measuring sleep time and wake after sleep onset.4

Fitness trackers have been found to be quite accurate counters of steps across  activities such as walking, running and using the treadmill or elliptical machines.1

Fitness trackers are less reliable pedometers with more complex dynamic movements such as agility drills.1

Fitness trackers are not reliable for measuring energy expenditure as researchers have  found up to 60% inaccuracy with significant variability in measuring Kcals or calories ‘burned’. 1

 With the exception of  BodyMedia Fit,  fitness trackers are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as medical devices.5

Fitness trackers can affect behavior and serve as a reminder to be more active

I believe that technological advancement will make them more accurate in measuring energy expenditure when performing dynamic complex activity.   Haven said that, if you are going to purchase one these devices know their current utility and limitations. I am in the market for a fitness tracker myself. In addition to the step counting feature and sleep monitor the bonus feature to me  is its glaring reminder to live the ALLFIT lifestyle. Join the movement #allfitmdlifestyle.

Until next time folks. Live happy and healthy, live fit.