Researchers ask: do wearable activity monitors really work?

Wearables are increasingly advanced and increasingly popular (the market is expected to be worth $8.36 billion by 2018), but are they as helpful consumers hope?

A group of scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch wanted to find out whether wearable activity monitors live up to their promises – and if they could be offering more. ‘Despite their rising popularity, little is known about how these monitors differ from one another, what options they provide in their applications and how these options may impact their effectiveness,’ Elizabeth Lyons, a senior author of the study, said. Her team studied 13 devices, including ones made by Jawbone, Fitbit, and Misfit, and published the results in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

On the plus side, they found that the associated apps’ focus on goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback was in line with what doctors recommend, and that the health information wearables collect is often more in-depth than you’d get at a typical check-up. But they said that clinically proven techniques for encouraging exercise and staying motivated were lacking in many of the systems, including planning for action, problem-solving, and making a commitment.

Perhaps inevitably, the researchers concluded that the best wearable is the one which most fits your lifestyle and health/fitness goals. But their study serves as a good reminder of just how personal wearables are, both in terms of the data they collect and the fact that there’s no one ‘best’ device.

In fact, they emphasised that a simpler device may be better than a more complex one if you’re aiming for a specific goal (like getting more sleep or improving your running speed). They also emphasised that wearables could have a big impact for patients who have been released from hospital and need to build up their strength and track their recovery. In fact, they want to do further studies to find out their potential impact on public health.

Image via Fitbit.

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Diane Shipley