How Paramount is the Accuracy of Your Wearable?

How Paramount is the Accuracy of Your Wearable?

As I was finishing up a workout a few Sundays ago, I got off the treadmill feeling pretty accomplished only to realize I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit. ARG! I immediately felt defeated. Now having no record I completed a workout, it’s like it never even happened! This is the effect wearable technology has on us. It gives us a feeling of accomplishment with the ability to visually see the work we have achieved in an exercise bout or in a day’s time. It gives us motivation and a basis for comparison against the day before or the week before, pushing us to work a little harder, and on that Sunday it made me realize the importance of having the ability to track the work I had done. But for all of these motivational factors, just how accurate is your smart watch? When it tells you your peak heart rate was 174 bpm, was it? Did you actually get 12,000 steps in yesterday, like it said you did? What about those 2,200 calories burned? Maybe the bigger question is, does it really matter? The answer is yes…and no.

Wearable technology was named a top trend in 2016 and 2017 by the American College of Sports Medicine and by 2019, the smart wearable market is predicted to generate $53 billion in sales according to Juniper Research. These devices are here to stay and, as technology improves, so will the accuracy of them. However, several studies have suggested that the heart rate measured via photoplethysmography (PPG), which is a low-cost optical technique used by smart watches to detect blood volume changes at the skin’s surface, is inaccurate when compared to EKG signals via a chest-strap monitor and more so when comparing the heart rate to an EKG using electrodes. A recent study done by the Exercise Physiology Lab at Marshall University found that the Fitbit Charge 2 was anywhere between 2-20 beats off from EKG rates adding that, as intensity of exercise increased, the inaccuracy of heart rate measurements increased. This coincides with a similar study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic showing heart rate measurements above 130-140 bpm became very inconsistent when measured by various different wearables including the Apple Watch and Fitbit.


Does this mean you should be chucking your watch out the window? Definitely not. These pieces have changed the fitness industry. They are helping society become more aware of how active they currently are and provide goals to get them moving more. Your smart watch should be a tool to help you create and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Use it as a guide. You heart rate may not be one hundred percent accurate, but, over time, you can track trends.

The same can be said with your caloric output. It really doesn’t matter that you burned, let’s say, 2,100 calories. What matters is that you have a measurable value with which to set goals. In fact, what matters more, is what you can’t track with your wearable: food. Ninety percent of successes with regard to weight loss and body composition changes occur via calorie intake and proper food choices. Knowing how many calories you have burned in a day is helpful, but only if you are eating less.

So use your smart watch to track your progress and set goals for improvement. If you walked 6,000 steps yesterday, go for 7,000 today. If you achieved 20 active minutes today, shoot for 30 tomorrow. Wearable technology has given us the ability to ‘see’ our improvement – the work our body is doing on a daily basis. For the motivated individual, this will push them to do better. For the individual needing to be more active, this will give them definable goals. Either way, accuracy is not the most important aspect of this technology, and it really doesn’t need to be. What is most important is that we now have a trackable method to help us achieve a healthier us.
My ‘Reminder to Move’ just went off…gotta go!

Amy Hanshaw M.S.
Exercise Physiologist
Executive Director/ Lighten-Up & HIT Fit Director
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