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Wearable activity trackers a hit with the older crowd, says U of Waterloo study

wearable activity trackers

A new study finds that wearable activity trackers such as the Fitbit Zip and the Jawbone Up 24 can prove useful for people over 50 dealing with chronic illnesses. On top of that, seniors seem to like them.

The study out of the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy involved 32 participants aged 50 and over who tried out five different devices – a simple pedometer, a Fitbit Zip, a Misfit Shine, a Jawbone Up24 and a Withings Pulse – for three days and then answered a questionnaire about how they used the device and their level of satisfaction with the product. After using all five, participants ranked the devices and indicated their likelihood of purchasing an activity tracker in the future.

All participants self-reported with a diagnosis of chronic illness in the form of either hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis and many of them reported being advised by their physician to get more exercise.

Overall, the results showed that participants enjoyed using the tracking devices and were encouraged by them either to be more active or at least to be more conscious of their current level of activity.

The goal was 10,000 steps. These trackers really let you know how much more than your daily routine you really need to put in to get to that goal. Doing your normal day-to-day thing, you’re not even close.

One participant (male, age 65) said, “The goal was 10,000 steps. These trackers really let you know how much more than your daily routine you really need to put in to get to that goal. Doing your normal day-to-day thing, you’re not even close.”

Canada’s Public Health Agency recommends seniors get moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week. As we all know, changing habits is not easy, and for seniors, although intervention programs and assistance are in many cases available, these cost money and resources. That’s the bonus of the activity device, say the researchers – they’re an inexpensive, simple to use and, most importantly, patient-managed approach to better health.

“Persuasive fitness technologies are attractive because they ‘automate’ behavior change. They offer convenient data collection, analysis, and storage over long periods with immediate automated feedback,” say the study’s authors.

Sales of wearable devices are expected to grow by 18.4 per cent in 2016, according to a report from market research firm Gartner, Inc., with more and more customers choosing the smartwatch as their activity device of choice.

Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity are risk factors for chronic disease and a shortened lifespan.

The study’s authors believe that greater use of wearable devices could help. “If health professionals can help older adults become more aware of wearable activity trackers, there is potential for adoption, and through adoption, for creating more awareness of physical activity levels,” they state.

Researchers had one caveat, however, noting that improvements are needed to make the devices more accessible to seniors. For instance, a common complaint from participants was that the devices didn’t come with an instruction booklet.

The study was published this month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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About The Author /

Jayson MacLean
Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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