HEADLINES Published February12, 2015 By Staff Writer

Fitness Bands Work, But So Do Inexpensive Smartphone Apps

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Smartphone apps that tell you how active you are or how many steps you took are inexpensive and easy to use.
(Photo : Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

You want to be more active, but you also want to keep track of how active you are so that you can see how you are doing and motivate yourself to keep going. Using an activity monitor, a small device that you wear on your wrist or clip to your clothes, can help you do those things. Even better, there are inexpensive apps that you can download to your smartphone that can help you just as well.

Thirty minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week will help you reduce your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, and may even help you reduce your risk of developing some forms of cancer. An activity monitor or pedometer can help you keep track of those minutes and help you reach that 30 minute goal. They may be the spur you need to become more active and even lose weight if you need to.

The key is to finding a device or fitness app that keeps a reasonably accurate count of your steps. Researchers are the University of Pennsylvania tested three fitness monitors worn on the wrist (Fitbit Flex, Nike Fuelband, and Jawbone UP24), four fitness-tracking applications for smartphones (both for the IPhone and Android systems), a pedometer, and several type of accelerometer (including the Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip). Fourteen volunteers wore the devices or put the phones in their pockets and then walked on a treadmill first for 500 steps and then for another 1,500 steps while someone counted the steps.

The researchers found that different devices or apps sometimes produced very different step counts. The Fuelband underreported steps by more than 20 percent, for example. Most of the fitness monitors were more accurate, but they were no more accurate than the smartphone apps, which cost much less and were sometimes free. The apps were often easier to use and more convenient.

Only a small percentage of Americans own an activity monitor, and many stop using the device within a few months of buying it, the researchers noted. But a majority of Americans now have a smartphone and are used to having it with them, which may make a smartphone app a good way to track your activity.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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