Do Fitness Trackers Work?

Cropped SingleCare logo By | December 30, 2015

Fitness wearables were among the top holiday gifts again this year — but how effective are they at helping people keep track of their health and activities?

When the holiday season is over and all the seasonal calories have been consumed, many people will have fitness in mind while making their New Year’s resolutions. According to Business Insider, the wearables market is going to explode over the next couple years, nearly doubling in units shipped. And a report from the NPD Group shows a total wearable device revenue of $96 million since 2013. With such a demand, there is a wide range of devices to choose from. So the question is – which gadget should we choose? And more importantly, will it actually work?

Which Tracker Works For You?

The sheer number of available fitness wearables on the market is overwhelming. How do you tell which one is right for you? Digital Trends and The Wirecutter give top billing to the Garmin VivoSmart as the best of 2015, with offerings from familiar names like FitBit and Jawbone receiving praise, too. In fact, Wearable.com’s choice for the best model is the Jawbone UP2, which offers a combination of pinpoint accuracy and value, all wrapped up in a sleek package.

In a comprehensive rundown of the best trackers of 2014, Time suggests sticking with a few principles when choosing your device. Rather than going for the flashiest band with the most bells, choose a fitness wearable that tracks best what you need measured — sleep, activity, heart rate, calories burned, etc.

Is it Effective?

According to Real Simple, studies have shown that trackers mounted on shoes are better at monitoring movement than those at hip level. Hip level trackers can also be inaccurate at measuring how many calories have been burned. Lifehacker notes that most might not be extremely accurate at tracking sleep patterns either — if a person moves excessively in their sleep, they are often incorrectly marked as being awake. And and your local neuroscientist will tell you that while some trackers can measure heart rate, it’s important to remember that they won’t be anywhere near as accurate as medical-grade equipment.

Despite these shortcomings, fitness wearables can still have benefits if used for motivational purposes. A review of studies conducted in 2007 at Stanford University found that the use of pedometers is associated with an increase physical activity in wearers and also significantly decreased blood pressure and BMI. In 2008, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered a link between pedometer-based walking programs and weight loss. And Scientific American claims that wearables don’t even need to be accurate to help us be healthier. So long as we can have measurements to beat from the day before, we will push ourselves to sleep longer, walk more, or workout harder.

Tracking the Cost

When you really think in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the relatively inexpensive cost makes investing in a fitness wearable well worth any possible tracking discrepancies. Although smartwatches may cost anything between $250 and $1,000, many of the simpler fitness tracking models can be found for under $50. It all depends on your individual needs and goals.

Whether you’re using wearables to keep close track of your progress or simply to motivate yourself to stay active, staying fit often means keeping us healthy and staying healthy often means spending less on healthcare. If you find yourself in need of healthcare regardless, SingleCare can help you save more money in the New Year by giving you access to affordable healthcare. With an effective way to keep yourself on track and a reliable support system to fall back on, 2016 can be your healthiest year yet.

(Main image credit: Running lmf/Thinkstock)