Watches have become an amazing invention to help us tell time when we need to know. But I am not talking about watches that just tell time; I am talking about watches that tell time, count your steps, count your calorie burn, and calorie consumption. There are many different fitness watches that do most if not all of these features. But are these features good for you in the long run?
From personal experience; I had two watches that did more than just tell me what time it was. I started to depend on how many calories I was burning during my activity…I had to burn at least 1,000 calories to know I worked my a** off. But was that number accurate?! We know that the amount of calories that are said to be burned off on the machine is not the correct number, but how do we know we are burning off these calories even if the technology is telling us we are. Most of these watches go by your heart rate; but what they don’t tell you is that it could pick up someone else’s heart rate that you are near if on a machine. (Yes-freaky!!)
In an article on Qz.com written by Rachel Feltman about wearing 4 of these devices and what she learned. This is what she found:
I was pretty sure that the step counts would be all over the place, and that I’d be left wondering why I hadn’t just used an old-fashioned pedometer instead. In fact, the step counts were surprisingly consistent across devices—even the Basis, worn on my dominant hand, stayed remarkably close when I averaged out the results day-to-day. When we spoke to the ultimate quantifier, Nicholas Felton, about his multiple fitness trackers, he told us that the results were all within “around 10% of each other,” which he considered an acceptable margin. Sometimes I would look down at my various step counts and guffaw at the wide range the devices showed. But once I had the accumulated numbers in front of me, my results were much the same as Felton’s:
Not every data point worked out so well: Estimated calories burned, for example, were all over the place:
Individual bands were consistent, so they all “worked” within their own logic, based on whatever algorithms they use. But even though each company claims to use cutting-edge technology, the calorie estimates varied from device to device.
Representatives from FitBit, Jawbone, and Misfit confirmed that their bands estimate resting caloric burn—the calories you burn just by sitting around being your bad self—using your height, weight, age and gender. All three use algorithms informed by their accelerometers to estimate active caloric burn, and the FitBit and Jawbone allow you to enter different types of activity to better inform the burn rate. You might move your body as much while walking down a flat road as you do while hiking up a mountain, but the caloric expenditure will be different. Basis CEO Jef Holove told Quartz that his band uses heart rate, body temperature, and sweat level sensors to determine the intensity of your activity automatically, producing what he believes is the most accurate calorie count on the market. With the Basis, the calorie count was so much higher than average, however, that I was left wondering if I’m just especially sweaty.
As WIRED reported in 2012, the only way to get an accurate read on calorie burn is with an indirect calorimeter, which analyzes your oxygen consumption using a face mask and costs between $30,000 and $50,000. On the bright side, the five-pound backpack usually used to carry the equipment will make your workout that much more strenuous.
Bottom line, you can’t treat your fitness tracker’s calorie count as gospel. Like step count, calorie count is really just meant to be a good estimate. But step counts are a great tool for relative improvement; if an average day has a read of 8,000 steps for you, that number doesn’t have to be strictly accurate for you to deduce that increasing that number by half would make you fitter. Bad calorie estimations, on the other hand, could actually derail your fitness plans. If, for example, you’re using your calorie readings as an excuse to eat an extra slice of cake—or as a motivation to deprive yourself of essential sustenance—stop.
Go with your gut on how LONG you should work-out and how FAR you can go in a specific time period. Living a healthier and balanced life is not all about counting calories!!