The accuracy of fitness tracking devices

There is a lot of talk lately about which of the fitness tracking devices is most accurate. There are people who complain that their fitbit gives them credit for walking when they shift gears in their cars, or while they are brushing their teeth. Others complain that their fitness device tracks their calories, and they should be losing weight, but they aren’t, or worse, they are gaining. I read these things and it makes me cringe a bit. And, I will be the first to admit that I have engaged in some of these debates as well.

In the course of my journey to better health, I have used a number of devices to measure my activity. I have a FitBit One, a Basis watch, and apps on my phone. At one point I was using all 3 at the same time and trying to compare one to another. I would wear my watch, have my phone in one pocket, and the fitbit in another. I would have all three for the whole day, and at the end would compare which one counted how many steps. They never matched, and for a while it bothered me.

Eventually I had to smack myself in the head and as “what the heck are you doing Bob?” I was obsessing over the accuracy of one or another electronic device, and missing the entire point of their existence.

Here is the thing, all of these devices, at some level or another, are producing estimates based on the data they have. The FitBit acts like a pedometer, and using information you provide on your height and weight, will estimate how far you have walked, and how many calories you have burned. The Basis watch does something similar, but with a different set of sensors that also measure heart rate, skin temperature, and pulse. The apps on your phone vary. One that I have acts like a pedometer, while another uses GPS to tell where I have walked, and at what speed. Each of these has flaws when it comes to accuracy. But again, that isn’t the point.

The point of all these devices should be to remind us to be active, and to give us some relative measure of that activity. If the FitBit says I walked 1,500 steps, the watch says I walked 1,800, and the phone says it was 1,450, for a day, then the important thing isn’t the actual number of steps. The important thing is that I was very sedentary that day. All three should remind me to get up and get moving!

On the other hand, if one says 20,000, while another says 18,500, then the bottom line is that I was walking my butt around some.

If you are going to use a device to measure your activity, that’s great. I said in one of my first posts that I thought it was a key tool for me on my path. But, do take the data with a grain of salt. Focus not on a single day, or a single data point. Instead look at your trends over time. Are you walking more or less than you were when you started? That is the key. Once you understand that, then it doesn’t really matter which device you choose to track yourself. What will matter is that you are paying attention and trying to be a better, more healthy person. And isn’t that what we all should be about?

I'd love to read what you think. Feel free to comment. You can do so anonymously if you like, but I'd really like to know who you are if you don't mind. Thank you for reading! :)

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