The latest buzz on Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers, sometimes known as activity trackers, are designed to be a type of wearable technology. The idea behind the tracking part is to monitor and record several metrics or measures of good living or physical health. These metrics are based on current medical thinking and rely on such benchmarks as the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Part of the job of the technology included in the fitness tracker is to estimate such things as pulse rate, heart rate, calories consumed and so on. These metrics are estimated, recorded (in a type of computer log, data file or similar) and tracked over time. So, those of us who exercise regularly no longer have to keep a written journal of things like miles run, speed, grade or slope, and then translate those hand-written numbers to some type of chart or graph.
Today’s fitness trackers use a combination of wireless or wifi connections to transmit and save recorded data, along with such instruments as pedometers, altimeters and accelerometers. These instruments are embedded in the computer that resides in the tracker itself. For example, the Fitbit wrist band tracker has all of the technology incorporated in a very small microchip. Early on the technology was built into a small unit that clipped onto a shorts pocket, shirt collar or other exercise apparel. This was as far back as 2009. Formats have changed significantly in recent years, so that most trackers — there are several key brands — can be worn on the wrist like an ordinary wristwatch. In addition, there are also now fitness tracker apps for smartphones, Facebook and related online sites that work in combination with instruments like the accelerometer in the phone itself. GPS capability can also be accessed in this way so that you have an accurate record of not only how far you went, but in reality where you actually went.
Part of what is so amazing about today’s fitness trackers is that they are expected to morph once again into a bona fide medical device. There are multiple companies and manufacturers working on what essentially would be a Class II medical device requiring approval from the FDA. With such information as heart rate, breathing rate, pulse rate, body temperature and changes in these metrics over time, it’s easy to see how a real-time monitoring service could translate to alerts if medical emergency situations occur. We are most likely still a few years away from that type of sophisticated device, especially given the need for FDA approval — known to take several years.
There are several ways to measure the body’s key indicators. Some companies are now developing trackers that fit into earbuds; the theory being that body temperature plus other metrics are more accurate and less subject to wild fluctuations when measured in the ear. There is also a need to validate some aspects of the data being tracked. For example, wrist-based heart rate estimates are known to be less accurate than those that come from wearing a chest strap. With all this data being collected, uploaded to either an online server (cloud-based) or into a personal laptop, desktop or Mac, the subject of privacy needs to be addressed. The more data we provide through wireless the more someone can find out about us — whether that is a friend, the boss, a hacker, the medical community or any number of other potential sources.
Nonetheless, the fitness tracker has come a very long way in just a few short years. Instead of writing down our fitness-related results and keeping that notebook or tracking page filed somewhere for later use, that can all be done in real time with real technology. While fitness trackers are likely to continue to be available in a variety of formats — some prefer wristbands, wearable technology can be built into a shirt, chest straps might be needed for some measures — gone are the days when exercise routines were something you did as a matter of discipline. Now we can exercise and know immediately if we were better than yesterday, or last month, or even last year. Performance changes and the benefits of exercise are now much easier to see (literally), thanks to today’s technology and the innovative fitness trackers available today.