Fitness trackers are great at calculating our daily activity and motivating us to move throughout the day.
But are fitness trackers accurate? The best fitness trackers provide us with motivation and friendly reminders to get up and out; they track our steps, measure our heart rate, estimate calories burned, and give us a general idea of how active we are.
According to the NPD Group’s report, over 40 million adults in the United States own smartwatches or fitness trackers to encourage them to get in more steps during the day, improve their heart health, burn extra calories, and lose weight.
People are increasingly using fitness trackers to measure heart rate, estimate their energy expenditure or calories burned, and evaluate their sleep quality.
Are fitness trackers accurate at all? The only way to find out is to look at scientific studies. Let’s find out: how accurate are fitness trackers for steps? Are fitness trackers accurate for calories burned? Are fitness trackers accurate for heart rate? How accurate are fitness trackers for blood pressure? And how accurate is Fitbit?
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Table of Contents
Generally, Are Fitness Trackers Accurate?
There are thousands of fitness trackers on the market. Some are excellent for tracking your exercises and athletic performance. Some are designed to promote good posture or develop good habits.
But Are fitness trackers accurate? Almost every fitness tracker counts your steps and distance traveled. You will get most of the same features you can expect in dedicated fitness trackers in all of the best smartwatches.
It’s essential to note that fitness trackers are still a work in progress. Few studies have questioned their accuracy and found that smartphones gave more accurate step counting, while activity trackers underestimated the number of steps taken.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, activity trackers (also known as fitness trackers or fitness bands) incorrectly estimate the number of steps by up to 22.7%. At the same time, phones only get it wrong by, at most, 6.7%.
Are Fitness Trackers Accurate For Heart Rate?
A study issued by Stanford University School of Medicine assessed activity trackers to accurately confirm their ability to track heart rate and energy expenditure.
Euan Ashley, DPhil, FRCP, a cardiovascular medicine, genetics, and biomedical data science professor at Stanford, and his colleagues found that wearable devices measured heart rate with an error rate of less than 5 percent. In contrast, none of the devices tested tracked energy expenditure accurately.
Euan Ashley and his colleagues found that fitness trackers accurately measure heart rate; however, they do not accurately measure calories burned. In other words, activity trackers are more accurate in tracking heart rate than tracking energy expenditure. The findings of this study were issued in the Journal of Personalized Medicine.
You can pretty much rely on a fitness tracker’s heart rate estimations. However, it is a really bad idea to base the number of doughnuts you eat on how many calories your fitness tracker says you burned.
A 2019 study from Iowa State University reveals that fitness trackers and smartwatches are reasonably good at estimating heart rate at rest or recovery; however, they get less accurate as exercise intensity increases.
Several studies revealed that fitness trackers and smartwatches are good at measuring heart rate accurately while at rest or in recovery; however, they get less accurate as training intensity increases.
The main reason for this is as you sweat throughout your training, the sensor can fail to record your heart rate due to lower conductivity.
A 2018 study showed that Fitbit Charge 2 and Garmin vívosmart HR+ have good HR accuracy.
Another study examined the reliability of Heart Rate measured by the Apple Watch and found that the Apple Watch has very good validity during walking and recovery from walking. However, measuring HR’s accuracy decreases with increasing exercise intensity, such as during running or jogging.
Fitness trackers are accurate for heart rate, concluded this study.
Best Fitness Trackers For Heart Rate
What Are The Best Fitness Tracker for Calories Burned?
A 2015 American Heart Association paper found that the information given by a food-tracking app could be an eye-opener.
According to Lora Burke, a nursing and epidemiology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, apps can be excellent at helping people lose weight, especially by enabling people to monitor what they eat.
Fitness trackers are great because they encourage and support behavioral change. For instance, a fitness tracker will tell you if you’ve done 2,000 steps or you’ve done 12,000 steps. Once you become aware of your behavior, you will most likely change it.
Most of us think we are eating less than we are; however, seeing calories counted and graphed can amaze us.
A 2019 study found that Apple Watch 3 and the Fitbit Charge 2 provide adequate heart rate accuracy.
Tracking how many calories you burn may take the enjoyment out of eating and exercising. Instead of counting calories, I would recommend you make your calories count. Aim to primarily consume whole, plant-based food, lots of fiber, and lean organic protein such as fish, eggs, or chicken.
How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers For Steps?
A study concluded that specific Fitbit models are reliable in tracking steps, distance, energy expenditure, and sleep.
Another study compared Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge with two activity trackers. The researchers concluded that Fitbit Surge accurately counted steps (but not the Fitbit Charge HR) when participants walked with velocities corresponding to a brisk walk (≥4 km/h). However, walking at lower speeds (≤2 km/h) was not counted accurately.
Some studies suggest that where you wear your fitness tracker can impact its accuracy. The study concluded that the ideal location for accurately calculating steps appears to be the ankle or foot.
Best Fitness Trackers for Steps Counting
How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers For Blood Pressure?
According to the Mayo Clinic, lesser-known diseases of high blood pressure (hypertension) include disability, poor quality of life, or sometimes a fatal heart attack or stroke. Imagine, then, the advantages you would get if you could be instantly alerted to any spike in your blood pressure by merely looking at your watch.
Some fitness trackers may be accurate if you use them exactly as directed (1). But, the American Heart Association advises utilizing a home blood pressure monitor to measure blood pressure in your upper arm and not a fitness tracker, wrist, and finger monitor because they yield less reliable results.
Some fitness trackers are accurate enough. When it comes to tracking your fitness level ( except if you are a heart patient and rely on heart rate accuracy), you are looking for trends, not absolute numbers. Accuracy is not as important as trends – how did you do today vs. yesterday vs. a week ago vs. a month ago?
Use fitness trackers to track your workout for distance, time and calories burned, and leave the more complex information on blood pressure for a home-use monitor.
Fitness trackers will not replace your regular check-ups with your Doctor. And always check with your physicians for personalized medical advice.
How Accurate Is Fitbit
When choosing a Fitbit, remember that no single product or service is best for everyone. Select a device that is convenient to wear and suits your lifestyle best. Also, choose a Fitbit model that fits your budget. And besides, your Fitbit or any fitness tracker can’t provide any benefit if you don’t actually use it regularly.
According to the American Heart Association, Fitbit users take 43 percent more steps than non-users, according to the company.
Another study issued in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that Fitbit motivates behavior change and improves physical activity.
If your goal is to develop healthier habits and boost your health, a 2019 study reveals that activity trackers can be quite helpful.
In addition to measuring and recording each activity, usually, a Fitbit monitors your food consumption, measures the quality of your sleep, and gives you personalized tips based on your specific health and fitness goals.
In the United States, Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. And every 36 seconds, one person dies in the United States from cardiovascular disease. Worldwide, cardiovascular diseases continue to be the number one cause of death, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year.
According to the American Heart Association, one in every three adults fails to engage in any leisure-time physical activity. Being more active can promote lower blood pressure, boost good cholesterol levels, enhance blood flow, and maintain weight under control – all of which are great for helping you stay heart-healthy and live a long life.
The American Heart Association suggests that most adults have at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercises, such as brisk walking, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercises, like running.
Aim to take 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week to reach your recommended amount of physical activity. It will help reduce the risk of heart disease, promote better sleep, and improve your overall mental well-being.
Fitness trackers can help you track your heart rate and reach your physical activity goals during walks, runs, or bike rides. You also can select activities like Pilates, rowing, or spinning.
The AHA recommends taking 10,000 steps a day to enhance your health and decrease the risk of heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, studies have shown that walking as little as 30 minutes a day can help reduce the chances of many health concerns, including stroke and coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, breast and colon cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.
As per customers’ reviews, Fitbit Charge 3 accurately measures heart rate. Fitbit helps people become more active, tracking everyday health and fitness and giving them the tools, information, and motivation to reach their daily and long-term goals.
How to Increase the Accuracy of Your Fitness Trackers?
If you’re concerned your fitness tracker isn’t tracking your activity correctly or want to ensure the most reliable results, here are a few steps you can take to help improve your fitness band’s accuracy.
- Set Your Fitness Tracker Correctly: One thing that might impact fitness trackers’ accuracy is that they don’t consider your fitness level or the type of workout you perform. These things can affect your energy expenditure. Furthermore, these devices don’t always take into consideration your fitness level. If you are beginning an exercise program, the newer you are and the more calories you will burn. As you become more proficient at a particular exercise, you will burn fewer calories doing the same activity for the same period. It is important to set your fitness tracker correctly.
- Wear Your Device Correctly: Where and how you wear your fitness tracker can affect its accuracy. Generally, your device should remain in close contact with your body while exercising.
- Pro tips: Wear your fitness band on your wrist, not too tight or loose. Especially for devices that track heart rate, try to ensure it is touching your skin, and wear it a little closer to your wrist when exercising.
- Update Your App Setting: Fitness bands usually rely on the information you provide to measure your steps and daily activity accurately. Read the manual that comes with your fitness tracker.
- Here are a few settings to start with:
- Height: fitness bands use height to calculate your walking and running stride lengths. Enter your correct size in inches or centimeters to ensure the most accurate step count.
- Exercise App: To better measure workout intensity, use the fitness tracker’s exercise app to track your exercises, particularly for activities like running, spinning, or yoga.
- Here are a few settings to start with:
- Change where you wear your fitness tracker: Based on the research, you can improve your fitness tracker’s accuracy by changing your device’s location during specific activities.
- When jogging, wear the fitness tracker on your wrist.
Does It Matter Whether Fitness Trackers are Accurate or Not?
Except for a heart patient relying on heart rate accuracy, the main goal of using a fitness tracker is to get active and move more. According to a few researchers, activity trackers’ accuracy is not that important when considering their health benefits.
Fitness trackers are beneficial for seeing your progression and comparing what you are doing today with what you did yesterday or what you are doing this week compared to last week. And they can be a great motivational tool to help people stick to an exercise program.
If these devices motivate you to get moving and get in shape. Isn’t it moving better than sitting on the couch watching TV, playing games, or surfing the internet?
According to a study from the British Journal of General Practice, sitting is the new smoking and can kill you.
Another study issued in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that prolonged leisure-time sitting is associated with a higher risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.
Does it matter whether fitness trackers are accurate or not? You shouldn’t worry about your fitness tracker’s accuracy too much. It is okay to be off a few steps or calories. The key is to view and use your device as a motivation tool to reach your goals. If you find wearing a fitness tracker motivating, keep it up.
Overall, the most helpful indicator of how hard you are training – and consequently, the more calories you burn – is how you feel throughout your workout.
Motivate yourself to workout harder, take breaks, and hydrate well to keep your heart rate and your endurance up. The more you move, the harder you train, and the more efficiently you perform an exercise, the more you will torch these extra calories.
Nothing, even a fitness tracker, will replace your regular check-ups with your Physician. And always check with your doctor for personalized medical advice.