Some months ago, we reported that different brands of fitness trackers appear to count steps in fundamentally different ways from each other — and that called their accuracy into question. Yesterday, Nate Silver’s ESPN-owned data journalism site FiveThirtyEight.com launched, and there was a wonderful piece about just that topic.
Reporter Carl Bialik counted his own steps and other exercise-like motions and saw how a Fitbit Force (now recalled) responded. Then he went a little deeper, looking at whether counting steps is even a reasonable fitness goal. (Did you know there’s a thing called the Compendium of Physical Activities, which tracks the calorie burn of hundreds of activities? Neither did we. Now we all do.)
“It’s not just one step is one step is one step,” Herrmann, of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told me. That’s worth remembering for those who might be inclined to boost their step counts by substituting walking for more energy-intensive exercises.
Answers: the Force is a reasonably accurate tool, and much better than nothing. But if you’re looking for dead-on activity monitoring, a wrist band — any wrist band — is not going to do it.