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Fitness trackers: a real insight in to your health?

Fitness data

Fitness trackers are often a pious purchase for those of us looking to get healthier and track our progress along the way. But can they offer a deeper insight into our health?

Recently it was reported that a man in the US arrived at an emergency ward following a seizure. The medical team treating him noticed that he was wearing a Fitbit Charge HR fitness tracker. They accessed the important heart rate data collected by this tracker before, during and immediately after his seizure. This information was used to influence the course of treatment for this Fitbit user.

Surprising insights

While it’s unusual for an activity tracker to be used an emergency situation, it certainly isn’t the only surprising insight offered by a fitness tracker.

Another user turned to an online forum after noticing his wife’s consistently elevated heart rate. To his surprise, he learnt that a higher heart rate could be an indicator of pregnancy. The couple are due to welcome their first child in October 2016.

But are these (extreme) examples just one-offs, or are fitness trackers the key to quicker and easier diagnoses, treatment and monitoring of health issues?

Tracking your health

Interest in fitness trackers has boomed over the last few years. And it’s no wonder. We can find out pretty much anything at the click of a button these days.

As discussed recently on Which? Convo, if you’ve ever sought medical advice online (I’m definitely guilty of this), then you know there’s a danger attached to having complex health data at our own fingertips. The majority of us aren’t trained to properly analyse it, and could easily misconstrue what it’s telling us.

But fitness trackers can offer far more. We’ve tested models that can track a host of measures – your activity levels, calories burnt, heart rate, even the quality of your sleep.

All are good indicators of your general wellbeing, and could give your GP valuable information about your health that they simply can’t get from a short appointment. Also, being able to spot the difference between what’s normal and healthy for your body and what isn’t, could even stop you rushing down to your GP or A&E.

Other unexpected consequences

If you have private health insurance then you may be receiving rewards for your healthy lifestyle. But I suspect that the next generation of fitness trackers could take it one step further, helping you to reap monetary benefits, as well as health ones.

In fact, Russia’s Alfa-Bank announced in 2014 that it would offer higher interest rates for healthy customers with fitness trackers.

So could fitness trackers be used to monitor more than just your activity? Would you share data from your fitness tracker with your GP?


My phone gives an estimate of how far I have walked in a day and does provide an incentive to take a bit more exercise. For the time being, I am not interested in getting any more involved with fitness tracking.

I would worry about the accuracy of these products.

We have food scales and people scales that give you a different weight if you just touch them or tilt your body, blood glucose testers that give different readings, thermometers that give different temperatures. They have all been bought with quality over cheapness in mind.

So how trustworthy are these fitness monitors? Can they highlight a problem that doesn’t exist or fail to highlight a real problem?

As mentioned in this Which? article, the price is not a measure of accuracy of fitness trackers: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fitness-trackers/article/how-to-buy-the-best-fitness-tracker

As you say, the accuracy of household products leaves something to be desired but provided you use the same bathroom scales and stand in the same place you can see changes over time. I have some old fashioned mercury-in-glass clinical thermometers manufactured to British Standard 591.

I do wonder how people’s perception are changed by media reports of exceptional benefits. Is it possible that they are puff-pieces carefully spread around the Net and ignore the hundreds who may have collapsed exercising and the hospital has ignored the information totally, or as worthless.

The Banking angle is true and garnered a huge amount of comment for very modest effort. Clever Russians.

” The Moscow-based bank released a complete advertising campaign around “Healthy is the new wealthy” and positioned the Bank promoting the premise that there is more to life than money. It is a brilliant campaign and plays strongly into the trends of fitness, longevity and quantified activity.

While the high rate is attractive and could hurt the bank’s cost of funds, limiting to daily activity provides an upward bounds of what customers can transfer. Further, while more expensive, the research shows that once customers work hard to move the money into the account, they are very reluctant to withdrawal the funds as they have to have increased activity to get the money in.

This behavior connection makes the account exhibit very low interest rate sensitivity and positive convexity. As such, what the account cost in rate, it makes up for in performance and marketing. Customers are attracted to Alfa Bank as it seems fun and supportive of a healthy lifestyle. This psychological tie in, makes customers identify with the bank in a sort of instant brand association. When rates go up the account balances should remain “sticky.”

The other thing that the account does well is drive engagement. Now, not only are customers checking their fitness tracker, but they are also curious to see what impact activity has had on their balances so they have increased online and mobile usage. This further helps cement the brand.”