Wearable activity trackers-advanced technology or advanced marketing?

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2022 Apr 21;1-16. doi: 10.1007/s00421-022-04951-1. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Wearable devices represent one of the most popular trends in health and fitness. Rapid advances in wearable technology present a dizzying display of possible functions: from thermometers and barometers, magnetometers and accelerometers, to oximeters and calorimeters. Consumers and practitioners utilize wearable devices to track outcomes, such as energy expenditure, training load, step count, and heart rate. While some rely on these devices in tandem with more established tools, others lean on wearable technology for health-related outcomes, such as heart rhythm analysis, peripheral oxygen saturation, sleep quality, and caloric expenditure. Given the increasing popularity of wearable devices for both recreation and health initiatives, understanding the strengths and limitations of these technologies is increasingly relevant. Need exists for continued evaluation of the efficacy of wearable devices to accurately and reliably measure purported outcomes. The purposes of this review are (1) to assess the current state of wearable devices using recent research on validity and reliability, (2) to describe existing gaps between physiology and technology, and (3) to offer expert interpretation for the lay and professional audience on how best to approach wearable technology and employ it in the pursuit of health and fitness. Current literature demonstrates inconsistent validity and reliability for various metrics, with algorithms not publicly available or lacking high-quality validation studies. Advancements in wearable technology should consider standardizing validation metrics, providing transparency in used algorithms, and improving how technology can be tailored to individuals. Until then, it is prudent to exercise caution when interpreting metrics reported from consumer-wearable devices.

Keywords: Energy expenditure; Fitness; Health monitoring; Physical activity; Step count; VO2max; Wearable technology.

Publication types

  • Review