Fitness trackers are no good at counting calories, and other lessons from wearing four at once

For 10 days last month, I strapped on four fitness trackers for every waking hour—all in the name of science. I wore them to brunch. I wore them on my birthday. I wore them when I got sick and spent a full day in bed. For a week and a half, I was quantified—in quadruplicate.

The premise I was testing is fundamental to the idea of fitness trackers, the liveliest sector of the wearable computer market. Fitness trackers are touted as a wellness tool: something that you’ll want to wear all the time, and that will make your life better and healthier. I wanted to see if they were producing data that could actually help me, and just what I could do with that data.

I expected to hate all of them, but I was wrong. I also expected them to all be sorts of useless—and on that count I was right.

via Fitness trackers are no good at counting calories, and other lessons from wearing four at once – Quartz.

Nice, brief side-by-side comparison of all four of these current-generation trackers.  Not always the intuitively best one to review from each company — for example, it’s a known thing the FitBit Flex is skin-irritating to the point of actually being recalled for a cash refund, and if the reviewer was looking for a display instead of bleep-bleep communicating devices, there are other FitBit models that are more like that.  Looks like they went for whatever model was a wrist strap version.

But still, an important comparison.  Step counting results were accurate, apparently; nearly the same on all the devices, and it should be; you can get accurate enough step counts from a $20 pedo or even one of the little doctors’ office giveaway versions.  Or from a smartphone app.

But their estimates of calories burned, while following the same day to day trend, were up and down by 1,000 calories or so — too unreliable to accurately predict weight loss.

Let’s digress from this.  The benefit of a fitness tracker is that it may help you have a desire to spin its little hamster wheel by doing more exercise.  And it comes with software to do intake calorie tracking; if you’re wanting to lose weight, tracking and limiting your intake is job #1.  Having a workable daily plan is #2, and perhaps these devices might help you with that.  Maximizing your output is somewhere down the list.  Beneficial to your can-do attitude, helpful in creating more caloric deficit, though not going to produce any results until you’re actually limiting your intake in a systematic, measured way.

So you might give such a device a try — or wait for the next versions — or use a pedometer — or just mentally count your exercise minutes toward a weekly target.   It depends on your budget and whether you think the presence of the device is motivationally informative.  Not essential.  Not even at all helpful for some.  Somewhat helpful for others.

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