There once was a time when the pedometer was exclusively used by physical education teachers to motivate lazy teens. This would ultimately result in said lazy teenagers shaking their wrists rapidly in order to accrue the ever elusive ten thousandth step. Despite its humble origin, the pedometer has been revolutionised by Fitbit and the likes, and it now contains an accelerometer, said to improve accuracy. Despite this, it’s still alarmingly easy to notch up steps by shaking the old wrists rapidly. So this brought me to the question: are these monitors actually accurate and do they, in fact, improve our health?
Are they accurate?
Mostly, yes. A study compared activity trackers to expensive accelerometers used for scientific research. This study found activity trackers to be highly accurate at measuring sleep and steps counted, and moderately accurate at measuring vigorousness of exercise and total calories expended (1). So, all in all, the activity trackers on the market appear to be relatively accurate when you don’t sit there and shake your wrists repeatedly. Great!
Do they increase number of steps performed?
Probably. A study found wearable fitness devices to increase steps performed above those that didn’t wear a device when measured immediately after this short time period. This also resulted in weight loss in the group analysed, obese women (2). Additionally, a review paper found that wearing an activity monitor increased average step-count by 2000 steps per day, when measured immediately following the period of wearing this device (3).
Despite these promising results, a common complaint is that activity trackers fail to increase an individual’s step count over longer periods of time. Thankfully, a 2013 study came to the rescue, finding that at 12 months after first wear, those that wore a fitness tracker reported performing significantly more steps than they were performing 12 months earlier, quashing such rumours (4).
Do they improve our health?
The more steps you do, the more exercise you do and the better your health right? Yes, that would make sense, however, not a great deal of research has been conducted to see if steps measured by a pedometer directly improve health. One of the few existing studies reported that the greater number of steps taken as measured by a fitness tracker, the less likely one is to develop various lifestyle illnesses. Furthermore, increased step performance is associated with lower blood pressure and less body fat, although this is a poor quality study (5).
Is it healthful?
They’re accurate, they increase daily step count in the short and longer term (1 year) and this in theory with the support of poor quality scientific research tells us that this improves health.
Our verdict: Moderately healthful.
I hope this has been healthful.