Smartwatches’ health and fitness tracking abilities are touted to help improve sleep, reduce stress, and encourage movement and activity. In a recent survey, 67% of owners believe that their wearable device has increased their awareness for a positive impact on their health.
Heart tracking and step counting were identified as the most useful data from their smartwatch. Accuracy is ranked as the most important quality for a smartwatch, followed by comfort and ease of use.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers continue to improve their accuracy. Most trackers use proprietary technology and algorithms to determine what counts as a step so each will generally provide different results.
How Smartwatches Track Steps
Most watches use a three-axis accelerometer to monitor arm movements in every direction. These arm movements are data points that factor into the watch’s algorithm. Everything is then translated into steps and activities, which then helps the watch estimate calories burned and sleep quality. Some watches have more sensors than others. More sensors mean more accurate information.
Sensors that you can find on smartwatches include the following:
- Bioimpedance: Check the resistance of your skin to a tiny electric current
- Optical: Illuminates your capillaries, then a sensor measures the rate at which your blood is being pumped
- Actigraphy: Translates wrist movements into sleep patterns
- Polysomnography: Monitors brain activity, not movement, for sleep
Consistency Is Important
When it comes to getting actionable information, be consistent in how you wear your smartwatch. Tips to better understanding your fitness progress include the following:
- Wear the device daily.
- Wear the watch on the non-dominant wrist.
- The device should fit securely.
- Conduct any calibration steps recommended in the user’s guide.
- Complete updates as they become available.
Data from sensors can be part of the algorithm that ultimately displays the number of steps. Depending on your watch, a bike ride could also translate into steps. Conversely, keeping your hands steady in one place can underestimate your steps. If you wear two devices, you will most likely get two different results. Even if the watches have the same data, their interpretations of the data could be vastly different.
You can perform a few experiences that help you better understand how your watch tracks steps. Document how many steps are counted before and after you complete a walk around the block. Instead of walking, take a bike ride around the block, and note how many steps are logged. Observe whether you get credit for steps when you are kneading bread or washing your hair. Perhaps the watch tracks differently when you put the watch in a pocket. If you are truly looking for accuracy, consider taking off the watch when you are participating in activities that inaccurately count movements as a step or take those additional steps into account.
At a minimum, these experiments will provide you with better data on how your watch counts steps and other activities. Once you understand your watch, you can better ensure you get consistent results, if not completely accurate. If accuracy is your top priority, consider buying a separate tracker that you wear on your hip. Even a smartphone in your hip pocket will probably provide more accurate results than a watch on your wrist.
Recommended Daily Step Count
A step counter motivates many people to move more. This is a good thing. The standard of 10,000 steps daily is a benchmark for many. There is good news, though, for those who struggle to reach that daily step count. A recent study showed that middle-aged people enjoyed health benefits when they walked as few as 7,000 steps every day.
Lower mortality risk was identified when they walked between 7,000 and 10,000 steps. The benefits leveled off when they walked more than 10,000. When weight loss is the goal, more steps are better. Science will continue to refine the importance of steps on overall health.
The next time you're in the market for a wearable tracking device, pay close attention to the integrated software and compatible apps as well as the sensors and algorithms packed into the device itself. They all play a part in the number of steps that flash up on your smartphone screen at the end of the day
Smartwatches Can Encourage Activity
Wearing a smartwatch with fitness and wellness capabilities is a great choice if you are looking for motivation. These wearables will provide you with a general idea of how you are progressing. If you want more accuracy on how many steps you take, you might consider buying a wearable that clips on your hip.
Regardless of what commercially available wearable you choose, remember that the device cannot diagnose complex health problems. See your doctor if you have concerns about your health.
At ProFysio Physical Therapy, we can help you return to active life. If you have been avoiding exercise because of chronic pain or an injury, our physical therapists can offer treatments and appropriate exercise to get you moving again.
Call (732) 812-5200 or use our online form to schedule a no-cost initial consultation.