Assoc. for Women in Science

Winter 2015

AWIS Magazine covers topics important to women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine fields. Topics include career advancement, work-life balance, the state of science and technology, women’s wellness, and AWIS’ political and

Issue link: http://magazine.awis.org/i/613158

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46 workingfashion wearable fitness association for women in science | winter 2015 Wearable Fitness Trackers: Are They Worth It? By Paige Pope Undergraduate, Purdue University W earable fitness trackers have become a norm for active people in the past few years, a $1.15 billion industry to be exact. It is a crowd-pleaser during gift season and can be seen on the wrist of everyone from college students to top executives. But even with such prominence and universality, sales are starting to plateau, and we are still left considering, "Are wearable fitness trackers worth it?" What started as a simple, basic model that tracked steps has become a full lineup of products from nearly all tech players with a range of capabilities and styles that cater to every consumer wanting to give fitness tracking a shot. Most track- ers do have some common functions: count steps, measure distance, monitor weight loss and measure sleep. High-end models tabulate other metrics such as heart rate, skin tem- perature, body weight, body mass, blood oxygen level and perspiration. But are the trackers really worth the high costs and constant accountability? Not to mention the requirement to have a bracelet on you at all hours, waking and sleeping. Not to mention that smart watches and phone apps moving in on the market. Tracker Appeal The appeal of wearable fitness trackers is apparent. The once mysterious inner workings of our body are now available right at our fingertips. Trackers provide a continuous blueprint of our bodies and monitor our health to remind us to keep mov- ing, sleeping and eating healthily at all times, instead of just in the weeks after our annual physical. Plus, the personal charts and chance to digitally compete with friends appeals to our digitally and socially motivated brains. While there is nothing wrong with putting health at the forefront of our daily lives, there could be a problem with the quest to continuously track and quantify our behaviors. Suddenly, we can judge and measure our basically bodily functions that we previously did not think twice about. Our sleeping, eating and even walking patterns are put under a personal microscope and the trackers create a quantified self. With our lives already cluttered and our minds already stressed, fitness bands perhaps don't add to our well-being, but may chip away at it instead. In fact, The NPD Group's Connected Intelligence Wearables Forecast explains that 40% of activity tracker owners stop using the device within six months, perhaps due to lack of trust in the product or the desire to escape the constant monitoring. There are some misgivings about trackers that may make you think twice. For one, the science isn't all there, and too many people may look to their fitness tracker as a 100% reliable source of health information. According to an article in the Scientific American, if you wear a few different brands of fitness trackers you'll end up with a few different step counts for the day. Rachel Feltman, a tech journalist for Quartz, conducted and informal experiment and wore four fitness trackers at once for a 10-day period. Her results reflect the widely-held notion that there's roughly a 10% difference between various step readings, plus the calorie counts on her devices differed. According to sleep researchers, it's brain waves, not wrist movements, which indicate stages of sleep. Get Smart Maybe it's not the science that is important. It's the motiva- tion and support these trackers provide. It's the continual presence right on our wrist and on our greatest sidekicks — our phones — that cuts through the clutter of our lives. Track- ers turn health efforts into a personal game which motivates wearers to walk instead of taking the bus. Through the synced apps, wearers feel more in control of their well-being and feel supported by friends and family competing on the app. It's the continual presence right on our wrist and on our greatest sidekicks — our phones — that cuts through the clutter of our lives.

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