- There has been an explosion in the market for health apps and devices that help you track and manage your health. From food and exercise to heart function, the quality of your sleep and blood sugar, you can find a device to fit your purpose.
- Changing behaviors is hard to do – whether trying to eat more healthfully, move around more every day, or track your blood glucose. Convenient and easy-to-use devices can help you keep track of your numbers, and support your behavior change over time.
- You can find these gadgets at major retail stores, on Amazon, and at consumer electronics stores. Ask your friends, workmates, and health professionals which devices they recommend. Some health plans and employers also have recommendations for you and provide discounts for participating in wellness programs when using these devices.
- Check out the reviews below for consumer ratings on some of the best-tested devices on the market.
Most Americans track some aspect of their health, such as weight, blood pressure, food eating (calories, nutrition), steps and exercise. While most people who self-track still do so in their heads, more of us are doing so via digital means, through mobile phone apps and electronic gadgets. These are not your Grandpa’s Pedometers, but a new digital device that’s wireless and keeps track of your activity along with sending that data, through the internet cloud, to a database which you can access through your mobile app or your computer.
Self-health tracking is growing
Self-tracking for health via electronic means is growing fast: over one-third of U.S. consumers planned to buy a new fitness technology in 2013 – especially women. We buy these at mass merchants (like Target and Walmart), sporting goods retailers, online on Amazon and at electronics stores like Best Buy, which has had a long-time interest in digital health devices. The store’s Best Buy Mobile blog often features posts about digital health topics; here’s one on the Fitbit Ultra device.
Here’s a snapshot of Americans’ use of fitness technologies:
- One-half of U.S. consumers online used a fitness technology in 2012
- Most people intending to buy a new piece of fitness technology in 2013 believed they were in excellent or good health, together 90% of people planning to buy devices
- 4 in 5 people using fitness technologies are highly satisfied with these devices, leading people to consider acquiring more such devices.
- The most important product features for fitness tech’s are functionality (88%), quality (87%), ease of use (87%), durability (87%), and price (86%)
More women use these devices than men, and more people under 35 use them. However, the fastest-growing group of digital self-trackers is older people.
Pedometers, by far, are the most common fitness devices, owned by 31% of U.S. online adults. In addition, fitness video games, portable blood pressure monitor, digital weight scales with body composition metrics (e.g., BMI), and heart rate monitors are the most popular fitness techs in the U.S.
Source: California HealthCare Foundation
Increasingly, these devices will be used beyond simple activity-tracking like steps and heart rate. Digital gadgets can remind you to take your medications, warn you if your walking (gait) seems unbalanced, or take your weight simply by stepping in front of your mirror to brush your teeth as hidden sensors under the floor gauge your points and water composition. (For more on this topic, read Making Sense Out of Sensors: How New Technologies Can Change Patient Care from California HealthCare Foundation.)
Look for your device to multi-task several health functions. The underlying sensor technology is getting smaller and smaller, more powerful, and less expensive. So digital health devices can do more by incorporating additional sensors on the same gadget: for example, the Withings Smart Body Analyzer records your weight, BMI, heart rate, and air quality (measuring carbon dioxide, C02). Withings also offers the multi-tasking Pulse, new in summer 2013, which monitors activity/steps, calories burned, and heart rate.
Battle of the (wrist)bands
There’s a battle brewing in digital health for what technology companies seem to think is the most valuable part your human body-real estate: your wrist. There were at least 50 digital health products featured at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show that had wristbands, usually black, plastic or rubbery, and often able to click in and out of the band for use in-hand, in pocket, or in a few cases, on a lanyard or pendant device. These devices fit into the fitness watch category when worn on the wrist. In addition to fitness watches, which have been on the market for several years, there is a growing category of “smartwatches” being developed by some of the largest electronics companies including (in alphabetical order) Apple (iWatch), Google, Microsoft, Motorola, Samsung and Sony.
- Best Buy’s site crowdsources consumers’ ratings on fitness watches.
- REI offers advice for buying a fitness watch here.
- Men’s Health talks about workout watches here.
- BGR (Boy Genius Report) discusses the fitness watch market for 2013.
“Ready to wear” meets health sensors
The fashion aspect has grown this year in the Battle of the (wrist)bands, so that while black rubber and plastic still dominate the scene, many device companies are offering a Pantone-inspired palette of color options. The Fitbit Flex (in black) integrates a sleep function into the strap device. But Fitbit’s simple Zip tracker comes in five different hues. The Fitbug Orb (Fitbug of the UK, not to be confused with the Fitbit company) activity tracker is fuchsia pink, white or black, and can also, like many devices, do its thing while sitting in a pocket.
Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit Wearables, believes that activity tracking shouldn’t need a dedicated device to do the work: he sees a future where sensors will be built into your favorite t-shirt, a cap, a belt, or in shoes. His company’s device The Shine launched in 2013 and looks like a stainless steel disc which can be worn anywhere: on the wrist, around the neck like a pendant, as a pin, or carried invisibly in a pocket. Health sensors are being incorporated into fabrics for clothing, like shirts (such as Zephyr Technology’s BioHarness 3 shirt), socks (Sensoria brand from Heapsylon), and shoes (like the Nike+ LeBron X model that calculates the physics behind your high jump in basketball, explained by Nike here). In Germany, developers are working on clothing for babies to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
The bottom-line for digital gadgets that track your health: using sensors for tracking health can help to keep you well, and perhaps one day, even save your child’s life.
For more on self-tracking gadgets, see:
- How accurate are fitness trackers? In New York Times
- On wearable sensors, see the report Making Sense of Sensors in Healthcare from California HealthCare Foundation.
- High-tech gadgets can monitor your fitness in Consumer Reports
- Best fitness trackers in Good Housekeeping
- Your Body is an API: 9 gadgets for tracking health and fitness in Wired magazine
- The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness in PC Magazine
- Fitness Trackers Compared! in Men’s Life magazine
- A Glut of Gadgets to Track Your Body’s Vital Signs in MIT Technology Review
- In the crowded world of health and fitness tracking, winners are slow to emerge in Forbes
Reviews of health self-tracking devices, 2013
- 3 Fitness Trackers We Love in Prevention
- Best activity trackers in PC Mag
- Fitness trackers in HuffPo
- Activity trackers in Gizmodo
- Greatist on activity tracking
- Physicians’ overview of activity trackers
- My life with 4 activity trackers in Cnet
- Battle of the fitness bands in USA Today
- Best fitness trackers in Gear Patrol
- 7 Smartwatches to track your fitness in CTV News
What fitness devices do you use to self-track? Please share your experience here with your HealthcareDIY community now.