How Accurate Are Wearables? has partnered with LexisNexis to bring you this content.

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Wearable technology is commonplace now, with everything from activity trackers and smartwatches to sports watches that are GPS-enabled. However, despite their popularity, it is now widely accepted that they still largely lack the ability to provide accurate training data. So, why does the market still find value in wearable fitness tech?

First, understand that the fitness industry has always loved being ahead of the game, with interactive cardio equipment, new training toys and multiple forms of electronic engagement. Wearable technologies, aka disruptive technologies, have grown quickly in type and complexity. Disruptive technologies (Fitbit, smartwatches, smartphones) are technologies that displace an established pattern, such as altering us to move because we have sat too long. Disruptive technologies can alter our lifestyles, change the way we work and influence our economy.

Assessing and monitoring physical activity has become more common and easier with the help of a range of simple devices that can be worn or via mobile device apps. These devices and phones use a variety of technologies, from simple pedometers to complex accelerometers and gyrometers.

A range of factors influence the accuracy of these devices, including where they are worn on the body, what variables they are trying to measure, and what information is programmable during set up. A recent study compared a range of current and well-known activity trackers that manufacturers claimed could track varied activities like climbing stairs or playing basketball, energy expenditure and sleep behavior.

In most cases these easily purchased devices generally overestimated energy expenditure during basic activities like walking and running, and underestimated activities like basketball. Generally, they were within 10 percent of the correct number of steps taken during slower walking-based activities, but less accurate during higher-intensity, more varied activities like agility drills and court sports.

This same study also found that common GPS monitors, which rely on access to satellites via clear skies, have also been found to be inaccurate for moderate walking, but slightly more accurate in running. While there has been some research into the use of these devices, there appears to still be little reliability in the measures they produce, and they are still considered to have low validity.

Smartphones also have a range of available sensors and apps that provide monitoring options. Many of these rely on algorithms built into the app which accounts for where you carry the device (pocket, backpack or arm for example). Some of these apps report directly to a database and provide general information on your behavior, as well as report on your own performance, and thus hope to influence your behavior.

In short, while there has been an increase in the use of wearable devices and technologies, the accuracy of these devices is still questionable in the true sense of reliability and validity. As tools to spur behavioral change, however, they appear to be effective and this is potentially where they may have most value.

Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist from Fort Myers. She is a USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, USA Cycling coach and has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification. For more training tips, read her blog at or contact her at

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May 1, 2018


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