Activity tracker

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The Fitbit Surge, showing a clock display as an added feature.
Samsung Galaxy Fit activity trackers

An activity tracker, also known as a fitness tracker, is a device or application for monitoring and tracking fitness-related metrics such as distance walked or run, calorie consumption, and in some cases heartbeat. It is a type of wearable computer. The term is now primarily used for smartwatches that are synced, in many cases wirelessly, to a computer or smartphone for long-term data tracking. There are also independent mobile and Facebook apps.[1] Some evidence has found that the use of these type of devices results in less weight loss rather than more.[2] Sleep tracker devices have a tendency to underdetect wakefulness.[3]


The term "activity trackers" now primarily refers to wearable devices that monitor and record a person's fitness activity. The concept grew out of written logs that led to spreadsheet-style computer logs in which entries were made manually, such as that provided in the US by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports as part of The President's Challenge.[4] Improvements in technology in the late 20th and early 21st century allow automating the monitoring and recording of fitness activities and integrating them into more easily worn equipment. Early examples include wristwatch-sized bicycle computers that monitored speed, duration, distance, etc., available at least by the early 1990s. Wearable heart rate monitors for athletes were available in 1981.[5] Wearable fitness tracking devices, including wireless heart rate monitoring that integrated with commercial-grade fitness equipment found in gyms, were available in consumer-grade electronics by at least the early 2000s.

Electronic activity trackers are fundamentally upgraded versions of pedometers; in addition to counting steps, they use accelerometers and altimeters to calculate mileage, graph overall physical activity, calculate calorie expenditure, and in some cases also monitor and graph heart rate and quality of sleep.[6][7][8] Some also include a silent alarm.[7][9] Some newer models approach the US definition of a Class II medical monitor, and some manufacturers hope to eventually make them capable of alerting to a medical problem, although FDA approval would be required.[10] Early versions such as the original Fitbit (2009), were worn clipped to the waist;[6] formats have since diversified to include wristbands and armbands (smart bands) and smaller devices that can be clipped wherever preferred.[9][11] Apple and Nike together developed the Nike+iPod, a sensor-equipped shoe that worked with an iPod Nano.

In addition, logging apps exist for smartphones and Facebook;[8] the Nike+ system now works without the shoe sensor, through the GPS unit in the phone. The Apple Watch and some other smart watches offer fitness tracker functions.[10] In the US, BodyMedia has developed a disposable activity tracker to be worn for a week, which is aimed at medical and insurance providers and employers seeking to measure employees' fitness,[12] and Jawbone's UP for Groups aggregates and anonymizes data from the company's wearable activity trackers and apps for employers.[13] Other activity trackers are intended to monitor vital signs in the elderly, epileptics, and people with sleep disorders and alert a caregiver to a problem.[10]

Earbuds and headphones are a better location for measuring some data, including core body temperature; Valencell has developed sensor technology for new activity trackers that take their readings at the ear rather than the wrist, arm, or waist.[14] Numerous companies have also released devices in the form of a ring that leverage the capillaries in the finger.[15]

There are collar-mounted activity trackers for dogs.[16][17][18]

Much of the appeal of activity trackers that makes them effective tools in increasing personal fitness comes from their making it into a game, and from the social dimension of sharing via social media and resulting rivalry.[6][8][19][20] The device can serve as a means of identification with a community,[21] which extends to broader participation.

The standard activity-tracking smartphone or web apps present data in statistical form meant to be viewed after the activity has ended. However, research suggests that if we want a richer understanding of the data, we need intelligent computing to be included in the systems that run the apps.[22]

Some users and reviewers remain ambivalent towards the technology, making the point that in such a "mirror" displaying one's identity, misrepresentations are problematic.[23] There is also research problematizing tracking devices in relation to how we inhabit, experience and imagine our bodies and lives.[24] All forms of lifelogging also carry privacy implications.[25] Social networks associated with activity trackers have led to breaches of privacy such as involuntary publication of sexual activity,[26] and the potential for advertisers and health insurers to access private health data through the devices is a concern.[10] In 2016, there were several advances made in regard to fitness tracking geared toward kids with a variety of options from organizations such as UNICEF and Garmin.[27]

Wearable sensors[edit]

Wearable sensors have been widely used in medical sciences, sports and security. Wearable sensors can detect abnormal and unforeseen situations, and monitor physiological parameters and symptoms through these trackers. This technology has transformed healthcare by allowing continuous monitoring of patients without hospitalization. Medical monitoring of patients’ body temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability,[28] brain activity, muscle motion and other critical data can be delivered through these trackers. Moreover, in sports training there is an increasing demand for wearable sensors. For example, measurement of sweat rate was possible only in laboratory based systems a few years ago, but is now possible using wearable sensors.[29] Heart rate variability (HRV) has potential in determining the quality of an exercise regimen. Additionally, HRV is recommended among the athletic community as a warning sign for over-training. In these ways, HRV can be used to optimize performance.[28]


Activity trackers are available both with and without display.

Certain movements of the user, such as working in the household, cycling, swimming, dancing or rowing can distort the results obtained from activity trackers. In a test conducted by Stiftung Warentest, for example, no product determined the distance of a bike ride, even approximately.[30] Furthermore, the determined values for the human energy transformation were erroneous.[30] With the heart rate large deviations have been observed at wristlet trackers, and it is recommended for this purpose to use appropriate chest straps.[30]

Wristbands can be uncomfortable to wear and inadvertently be lost. For some products genotoxic substances were detected.[30]

The connection of activity trackers with social networks can lead to violation of privacy, such as involuntary publication of sexual activity.[26] The apps of some activity trackers not only transmit personal data, but also private address lists to servers on the Internet without notifying or asking the user.[30] Even when anonymized, the mere presence of geolocation data may be a national security risk.[31] However, the results of a study among semi-professional (half-) marathon participants suggests that these users are open towards sharing tracked activity data on a voluntary basis with: friends (51.7%), family members (43.4%), or a physician (32.3%).[32]

Medical uses[edit]

In those who are overweight or obese some evidence has found that the use of these type of devices results in less weight loss rather than more after 18 months of use.[2] However, it has been noted that the activity tracker used in this study is a now-discontinued model that is worn on the upper arm, which might be uncomfortable, and wear times of the tracker were low.[33][34] One review of six studies found that there was little evidence that activity trackers improve health outcomes.[35] Of five studies that looked at weight loss, one found benefit, one found harm, and three found no effect.[35] Another systematic review covering 35 studies and 7454 participants, published at the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that activity trackers increased people's physical activity by an average of 1850 steps/day.[36]

According to another study comparing 8-week interventions and four month follow-up of physical activity monitors, a guided weight loss program, and both together, activity monitoring and the weight loss program are associated with similar improvements and both combined are associated with more improvements than either alone.[37]

It is unclear whether activity changes occur in children and adolescents.[38][39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Menaspà P. Effortless activity tracking with Google Fit. Br J Sports Med. 2015
  2. ^ a b Jakicic, JM; Davis, KK; Rogers, RJ; King, WC; Marcus, MD; Helsel, D; Rickman, AD; Wahed, AS; Belle, SH (20 September 2016). "Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial". JAMA. 316 (11): 1161–1171. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.12858. PMC 5480209. PMID 27654602.
  3. ^ Examination of Wearable and Non-Wearable Consumer Sleep-Tracking Devices Versus Polysomnography (Sleep (journal), Volume 42, Issue Supplement 1, April 2019.
  4. ^ "Governor Rell’s Committee on Physical Fitness calls on residents to join President’s Challenge to get more active", Press release, Stamford Plus, April 2, 2008.
  5. ^ "Olympic Medical Institute Validates Polar RS800 Running Computer And Training System", Polar, November 7, 2006, retrieved February 25, 2014, archived February 25, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Jeff Beckham, "Fitness Trackers Use Psychology to Motivate Couch Potatoes", Wired, April 19, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Jill Duffy, "The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness", PC Magazine, May 22, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Caroline McCarthy, "Work out, get on scale...tell your friends?" Archived 2013-12-10 at the Wayback Machine, CNET, July 21, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Rheana Murray, "Smartphones become fitness coaches with new wearable activity trackers", New York Daily News, August 16, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d Dan Holden, "Worn Out: The Dark Side of Wearable Technology", Metro Silicon Valley, September 24, 2014, pp. 16–18.
  11. ^ Danny Sullivan, "The test begins: My life with four activity trackers, fitness bands", CNET, March 28, 2013.
  12. ^ "CES: Track your activity level, get cheaper health insurance?", Stream, Consumer Electronics Show, MarketWatch, The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2013.
  13. ^ "Tracker shares your habits with work", Technology, BBC News, January 7, 2015 (video).
  14. ^ David Z. Morris, "Forget the iWatch. Headphones are the original wearable tech", Fortune, June 24, 2014.
  15. ^ Nathan Ingraham, "Motiv Crammed a Full Fitness Tracker into a Ring", "Engadget", Jan 3, 2017
  16. ^ "Whistle wearable technology for dogs lets owners monitor pet activity", De Zeen, May 14, 2014.
  17. ^ Jill Duffy, "Whistle Dog Activity Tracker Adds GPS Location Finder", PC Magazine, May 21, 2014.
  18. ^ Heather Zimmerman, "Digital Dog", Metro Silicon Valley, September 24, 2014, p. 17.
  19. ^ G. F., "Quantified self: Fit, fit, hooray!", Babbage, The Economist, May 24, 2013.
  20. ^ Chuong Nguyen, "Zamzee Activity Tracker Hopes to Combat Obesity in Children", Ubergizmo, November 23, 2010.
  21. ^ Sherry Turkle, "Always On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self", in: Handbook of Mobile And Communication Studies, ed. James Everett Katz, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT, 2008, ISBN 9780262276818, pp. 121–137.
  22. ^ Fredrik Ohlin and Carl Magnus Olsson, "Intelligent Computing in Personal Informatics: Key Design Considerations", In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI ’15). ACM, New York, 263–274, accessed June 23, 2015.
  23. ^ Mónica Guzmán, "Using tech to change your habits? Lessons from a behavior change fanatic" Archived 2013-12-14 at the Wayback Machine, Seattle Times blogs, January 28, 2013.
  24. ^ Fors, Vaike; Pink, Sarah; Berg, Martin; O’Dell, Tom (2020). Imagining Personal Data. Bloomsbury Academic. doi:10.5040/9781350051416. ISBN 978-1-350-05138-6. S2CID 218918443.
  25. ^ Allen, Anita L. (2008). "Dredging up the Past: Lifelogging, Memory, and Surveillance" (PDF). The University of Chicago Law Review. 75: 47–74. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-13. Retrieved 2013-12-08.
  26. ^ a b Jack Loftus, "Dear Fitbit Users, Kudos On the 30 Minutes of 'Vigorous Sexual Activity' Last Night", Gizmodo, July 3, 2011. The company has changed privacy settings to avoid this: "Updates to your profile page" Archived 2011-07-09 at the Wayback Machine, Fitbit blog, July 4, 2011.
  27. ^ "Best Kids' Fitness Trackers of 2017". UNICEF Kid Power. Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  28. ^ a b Singh, Nikhil; Moneghetti, Kegan James; Christle, Jeffrey Wilcox; Hadley, David; Plews, Daniel; Froelicher, Victor (August 2018). "Heart Rate Variability: An Old Metric with New Meaning in the Era of using mHealth Technologies for Health and Exercise Training Guidance. Part One: Physiology and Methods". Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology Review. 7 (3): 193–198. doi:10.15420/aer.2018.27.2. ISSN 2050-3369. PMC 6141929. PMID 30416733.
  29. ^ Ermes, Miikka (January 2008). "Detection of Daily Activities and Sports With Wearable Sensors in Controlled and Uncontrolled Conditions". IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine. 12 (1): 20–26. doi:10.1109/TITB.2007.899496. PMID 18270033. S2CID 18080013.
  30. ^ a b c d e Fitnessarmbaender - Nur zwei von zwoelf sind gut,, December 27, 2015. Retrieved on January 6, 2016
  31. ^ Sly, Liz (29 January 2018). "U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  32. ^ Wiesner, Martin; Zowalla, Richard; Suleder, Julian; Westers, Maximilian; Pobiruchin, Monika (2018). "Technology Adoption, Motivational Aspects, and Privacy Concerns of Wearables in the German Running Community: Field Study". JMIR mHealth and uHealth. 6 (12): e201. doi:10.2196/mhealth.9623. PMC 6315235. PMID 30552085.
  33. ^ Plante, Timothy B.; Martin, Seth S. (17 January 2017). "Wearable Technology and Long-term Weight Loss". JAMA. 317 (3): 318–319. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19265. PMID 28114543.
  34. ^ Klasnja, Predrag; Hekler, Eric B. (17 January 2017). "Wearable Technology and Long-term Weight Loss". JAMA. 317 (3): 317–318. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.19268. PMID 28114544.
  35. ^ a b Jo, A; Coronel, BD; Coakes, CE; Mainous AG, 3rd (11 July 2019). "Is There a Benefit to Patients Using Wearable Devices Such as Fitbit or Health Apps on Mobiles? A Systematic Review". The American Journal of Medicine. 132 (12): 1394–1400.e1. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.018. PMID 31302077. S2CID 196617620.
  36. ^ Laranjo, Liliana; Ding, Ding; Heleno, Bruno; Kocaballi, Baki; Quiroz, Juan C.; Tong, Huong Ly; Chahwan, Bahia; Neves, Ana Luisa; Gabarron, Elia; Dao, Kim Phuong; Rodrigues, David; Neves, Gisela Costa; Antunes, Maria L.; Coiera, Enrico; Bates, David W. (8 December 2020). "Do smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and metaregression". British Journal of Sports Medicine. 55 (8): bjsports-2020-102892. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102892. hdl:10400.21/12519. PMID 33355160.
  37. ^ Peyer, Karissa L.; Ellingson, Laura D.; Bus, Kathryn; Walsh, Sarah A.; Franke, Warren D.; Welk, Gregory J. (June 2017). "Comparative effectiveness of guided weight loss and physical activity monitoring for weight loss and metabolic risks: A pilot study". Preventive Medicine Reports. 6: 271–277. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2017.03.002. PMC 5385579. PMID 28409089.
  38. ^ Ridgers, ND; McNarry, MA; Mackintosh, KA (November 23, 2016). "Feasibility and Effectiveness of Using Wearable Activity Trackers in Youth: A Systematic Review". JMIR mHealth and uHealth. 4 (4): e129. doi:10.2196/mhealth.6540. PMC 5143467. PMID 27881359.
  39. ^ Böhm, B; Karwiese, SD; Böhm, H; Oberhoffer, R (30 April 2019). "Effects of Mobile Health Including Wearable Activity Trackers to Increase Physical Activity Outcomes Among Healthy Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review". JMIR mHealth and uHealth. 7 (4): e8298. doi:10.2196/mhealth.8298. PMC 6658241. PMID 31038460.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Scoble, Shel Israel. Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy. Patrick Brewster, 2014. ISBN 9781492348436.