BG2: Fitness tech

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I know of a few people that have shackled themselves to these new fitness monitors that are most often bracelets that monitor your activity and vitals, then report it back to your smart phone and/or web site for stats junkies to get their thrills.   Anna Magee writes for the Daily Mail:

Take a look around any office, gym, or High Street today and you’ll spot another kind of rubber bracelet.

Unlike the purely decorative [charity] band, these sleek rubber bands — some with a watch-like face, some just a simple bracelet — have a function.

Acting like mini personal trainers, these high-tech pedometers register calories burned, steps taken, distance travelled and even how well you’ve slept, handily logging all of the data on to an app on your smartphone.

But are they any use?  

A growing body of rather worrying research suggests that, when it comes to counting calories, some of these high-tech, high-priced gadgets — which start at around £80 [$162] and can cost several hundreds of pounds — could, in fact, be completely wide of the mark.

Just last week, a study by Iowa State University in the U.S., revealed some of the bands could overestimate wearers’ calorie burn by as much as 40 per cent — a huge margin of error when you’re trying to work out how many calories you should be consuming.

Could this be why a raft of dieters on weight-loss forums across the web are joining discussions entitled such things as ‘My Fitbit [one of the most popular brands] is making me fat!’ with tales of gaining, rather than losing, pounds?

As someone who has become a devotee of the gadgets over the past six months, I didn’t want to believe the stories.

I asked [some] manufacturers … if they could send me studies conducted by the companies proving the accuracy of their trackers. Neither supplied them. Which is when I discovered that, actually, there isn’t much evidence out there at all.

To the lab!

In order to work out which was the most accurate, I visited the lab of Dylan Thompson, professor of sport, health and exercise science at the University of Bath.

The results were not exactly impressive. For each of the activities, I ranked the trackers according to how accurate they were.

Although I’d always far prefer that something underestimated than overestimated calories burned, lulling you into a false sense of security and giving you licence to over-eat.

‘Every device will have some room for error,’ says Professor Thompson, although he points out that our trial wasn’t as controlled as a proper research experiment. That said, I wouldn’t invest in the Misfit Shine, which overestimated my calorie burn in almost every task — by more than 700 per cent in one case.

This experiment has made me question my devotion to fitness trackers. I’m not the only one. Recent research found that although sales are on the up, like gym memberships, they’re soon ditched, with a third of people abandoning theirs after only six months. I’m going back to that simple equation of moving more and eating less. It’s low-tech — but at least I know it works.

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The point of this article is that if you don’t get the result you are expecting, you may also need to review how you are measuring you progress.   It appears these fitness bands are a current fad, and they hardly agree with each other let alone reality allowing for small variances.

Your body is a variable thing.  It won’t do the exact same thing under what you think are the exact same circumstances.  Calorie counting is at best a guess, so it pays to be conservative most of the time.  But in the end, the only thing that matters is that your weight goes down when you stand on the same scales.

These fitness bands will be great at giving feedback as to how well you did compared to another time period, but it appears you can not rely on them for accuracy – only relative changes between one measurement and another.

I was considering getting one, because I like data, but now I won’t.  I’ll stick to guessing and watching the weight on the scales.

 

– Pete

 


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  • Justsayn

    If Len Brown wore one of these bracelets it may confirm that his right hand side has the exercise routing of an olympic marathon runner.

  • ShortBackwardSquare

    The only items I use are my Garmin Edge 500 for my bike, and Fitbit bathroom scales. I’ve never quite worked out how any device can genuinely know how many calories I (or anyone) could burn, so on a weekly basis I just let the scales do the talking. It can feel a a bit like waiting for exam results, but normally the number gets smaller and smaller every week. And it needs to, just quietly.

    I take the view that as there are approximately 7,700 calories in a kilo of fat, I just multiply that by the weight loss each week to find out how much I’ve roughly burned over whatever I ate.

  • Mad Captain

    I’ve been using the FitBit devices since before they were released in NZ and they are an invaluable tool for losing weight. They work best when you match them with a calorie intake counter like MyFitnessPal (they talk to each other) and try and keep under what it suggests you eat by a margin of about 10%

    • mommadog

      Agreed. The food aspect of the Fitbit dashboard isn’t good to use here as its USA centric but MyFitnessPal has a lot of NZ produced foods so you get a much better calculation. They work together well and good on both companies working together to make the links. I have to admit I am useless at keeping up though with MyFitnessPal as I find logging food every day tedious and boring after the first few days. Especially when you cook at home and have to keep entering recipes. I know you can set it up to either suggest the number of calories you should eat based on a certain goal weight or you can set it up to let you know the number of calories you should eat plus additional calories based on how much exercise you have done that day. The more exercise you do the more you get to eat. Probably a great feature for an athlete but not so good for weight loss. Unless I missed it the article didn’t talk about this distinction and how people used the programme and information.

      I have had my own Fitbit for well over 2 years and use it to encourage me to move which is all I really wanted it to do – i.e. daily step counting and making sure I get in at least 10,000 steps. I’m still overweight and doing BG2 but that’s not because the device failed. I did.

  • Rod

    If they don’t do what they are advertised to do, they are clearly not fit for purpose, and the buyer is entitled to a refund under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

    • ShortBackwardSquare

      I agree, Rod… but the trick would be proving it.

  • JC

    I’ve had the Fitbit Flex for nearly a year and I quite like it. The best way to use it is by comparison of one day or week after the other.. the actual accuracy is then less important than if you’ve done more or less steps or calories each day and thats a pretty useful reminder to get cracking.

    I simply don’t use the weight guide because weight loss is less important to me than exercise.

    JC

    • SlightlyStrange

      I’m loving comparing months at the moment. Right now, I’m nearly 15,000 steps ahead of this time last month, which was 60k ahead of the same time in November.
      Having only got it in October, I cant compare any further back than that.

  • KQ

    If you can measure it you can manage it to a point. There is a whale of a difference (no pun intended) between youngsters and older people when it comes to programmed exercise for weight loss results. For the older folk a lifestyle shift is the only strategy that works long-term.

  • David Moore

    “These fitness bands will be great at giving feedback as to how well you did compared to another time period, but it appears you can not rely on them for accuracy – only relative changes between one measurement and another.”

    Spot on, this applies to most devices like this, bodyfat scales etc.

  • Some time back (about 2 years) I whacked together a spreadsheet that would calculate roughly how many calories you burned during excersize.

    And basically the calculation takes your weight, your excersize time and the excersize intensity (METS) and does a calc on that.
    formula is: ((METS * 3.5 * Weight)/200) * time.
    http://www.topendsports.com/weight-loss/energy-met.htm

    Now your basic gadgets can’t really work out what the METS for your activity was, all it can do is guess (and from the article guesses badly).

    I think the new gadgets that can read your heart rate will be making better guesses at what your METS for an activity was because it can actually sense some of the work you’re putting in to it.

  • EvoDriver

    Makes me glad that the only real exercise I do is running, and there seem to be universally accepted formulas for calculating calories burned from running (seems to be roughly Calories Burned = Body Weight in kg x Kilometres ran)

  • SlightlyStrange

    “only relative changes between one measurement and another”
    which is why I’m using my fitbit. It showed me how little I was actually moving, and motivates me to get out and move more. I’m not calorie counting at the moment (waiting on biopsy results for a coeliacs test), instead working on eating similar to what I was, and trying to move more – building up my fitness and strength again.
    I find things like MyFitnessPal and Map my walk / run to be better for calculating any extra calories you could consume anyway – my plan when I do start calorie counting again is for my fitbit steps to be considered “incidental” exercise, and any extra calories I allow myself will only come from specifically tracked activities. That said, I prefer not to eat my extra calories anyway.

    • Yeah, that’s what I do too – even on more active days I eat the same what I eat on sedentary days. Might as well take the win.

  • caochladh

    If you need to be motivated on the treadmill, have someone stand behind you with one of these…………

  • Wallace Westland

    I cannot get into the calorie counting in/out thing.
    At the end of the day (yes I know…it’s night) we all know what’s rubbish and what’s not.
    If it’s in a packet has an ingredient you can’t spell or a chemical name it’s not going to help you lose weight and is most likely bad for you. I seriously doubt our bodies even know how to process maltodextrin? (found on first packet I looked at in pantry)
    If it came off an animal or tree, bush, or vine or out of the ground and has had nothing added to it it’s probably good for you. If it came off two animals a bush, a tree and has something in it you can’t spell it’s probably not.

  • Unamused77

    Silly gimmicks, but a lot of $ in them.

  • WCMiner

    Some of the smart phones now have inbuilt apps. My S5 has thing called SHealth and I just turn it on and put in my pocket when I’m off for a gallop.
    Measures max and average speed, pace etc and shows you distance too. Handy as anything.

  • Fat Sally

    Well I’m not looking forward to weigh in. Too much beer on Sunday night and not the greatest of food weeks. No take aways but hig carbs, also had many beers on Sunday night after a succesful meeting.

    I’m not beating myself up as I know I cant have it both ways.

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