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Tracking Activity with a Phone App

How well do phone apps work for tracking activity?

Exercise has so many health benefits they might be difficult to count: weight control, mood improvement, blood pressure regulation and others. But the proliferation of devices to help you keep track of your activity can be daunting. Which one should you choose?

One consideration is accuracy. Do step counters measure steps accurately? That’s a question researchers answered in JAMA last week.

They compared 10 different devices and apps for smart phones by having 14 participants use them all while walking on treadmills. Many tests were undertaken, some for 500 steps and others for 1,500. For each test, an investigator manually counted the number of steps each volunteer took. Then the results were compared to those showing on the devices.

The Envelope, Please

While some devices (such as the Nike Fuelband) undercounted, ordinary pedometers and accelerometers (Fitbits Zip and One) were very accurate.

The exercise showed, though, that you don’t need a fancy device to see how far you have walked. Activity-tracking apps tested on both Android and iPhones worked very well.

If any of these devices help us stay motivated to move more, they could provide a significant benefit for health. Some people also find that using the ability of apps to interact with friends contributes to some good-natured competition that helps them try harder.

[JAMA, Feb. 10, 2015]

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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