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?

You can’t do the job without the right tools

As a dude I know that to successfully complete any improvement project I must have the right tools. My wife will attest that there are few jobs I have done around the house that didn’t involve at least one trip to the Home Depot (never Lowe’s because I am anti-48), to buy a tool that I just must have. Think of it as the male version of retail therapy if you will, but there is something very satisfying about adding to my tool chest to get the job done.

This “improvement” project is no different. To be successful I have to gather, and use the right tools. Without my trusty tools, I am doomed to failure. So, to start this Health Journey I have put together a modest tool chest.

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The first tool above is a Fitbit. I purchased mine about two years ago, and have used it sparingly in that time. If you aren’t familiar with this tool, it is basically a very high-tech pedometer. You can get more information on the full line of their products at The version I have will measure how many steps I take in a day, the number of miles traveled, and the amount of floors climbed on stairs. It can also measure the efficiency of my sleep, and an average calorie burn based on my activity level. When I get back near my computer, it automatically updates a dashboard to track my weekly activities.

As I begin the second week of my journey, I am going to set activity goals. This is a key next step for me, because becoming healthier is not only about eating less, it is about getting my body into better condition, one step at a time.

The second tool above is a notebook and pen. I am very old school on things, so actually pulling out a notebook to write down what I am eating and drinking is better for me than only using my smart phone. At first I went in search of a nice, hard covered, rubber-banded notebook to use. I have one that I keep in my camera bag for taking notes when I am out shooting. I couldn’t find what I wanted, but I spied this one, and shit it was 99 cents!

I keep the notebook with me whenever I am away from the house. Most of the shirts I wear to work have pockets, and it slips in discreetly, ready at a moment’s notice. On those occasions when I am more casual, it is in the pocket of my jeans.

To me this is an important tool to keep me accountable on my tracking. Not only is it handy, but it also serves as a reminder of what I am doing. If I only relied on my phone, or my memory, it would be easy to ignore or forget things.

The 3rd item above is my smart phone, running the Weight Watcher’s application. The newest version of the application is far more powerful than any I have seen in the past. With it I can quickly look up the point value of most of the things I am thinking of eating. It also has a feature to scan a bar code and report the point value for that product. While it doesn’t always find what I am looking for, it does so often enough to make it useful. My wife plans to use this feature on her phone when grocery shopping to get  better comparisons.

My tool chest is not nearly full, nor do I consider it complete for the job. But, I am well on my way, and have what I need to get a quality start.

It is Sunday morning, and time for me to set some goals for the week!