Fitness trackers

Story highlights

A study says smartphone applications and wearable devices are quite accurate in counting steps

In general, it finds, wearable devices are less accurate than smartphone apps

The study tethered healthy adults to 10 popular apps and devices by companies such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike

CNN —  

Technology: the solution to, and cause of, so many of life’s problems. For better and for worse, we’re tethered to our computers, glued to our TVs and parked in front of video games for hours. Even texting can hurt your body.

But don’t ditch your devices altogether.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that smartphone applications and wearable devices are actually quite accurate in tracking step counts. “Data from smartphones were only slightly different than observed step counts, but could be higher or lower,” wrote the authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The UPenn study recruited healthy adults who agreed to walk on a treadmill, tethered to 10 popular applications and devices by companies such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike, while an observer counted steps using a tally counter.

They found wearable devices in general were less accurate than the smartphone apps. The most accurate devices, according to the study, were the Fitbit Flex, One and Zip. One device, the Nike FuelBand, reported step counts more than 20% lower than observed; Nike did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Despite the potential these devices have to get us up and moving, not very many of us have them, compared with mobile phones. A leading market research company says one in 10 adults in the U.S. own trackers, while nearly two-thirds of American adults own a smartphone – and new technology has enabled these devices to easily track physical activity and other health behaviors.

“Increased physical activity facilitated by these devices could lead to clinical benefits not realized by low adoption of pedometers,” the authors wrote. “Our findings may help reinforce individuals’ trust in using smartphone applications and wearable devices to track health behaviors, which could have important implications for strategies to improve population health.”

Multiple studies have shown that if you’re aware of and alerted to your progress, you’re more likely to keep up the good work, exercising regularly and staying active. But if you’re going to keep that phone while walking around, just make sure you keep your head up and look where you’re going.