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Ball State researchers find fitness trackers not as accurate as users think

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MUNCIE, Ind. (April 5, 2016)-- Many Hoosiers are using fitness-tracking devices, logging steps and how many calories have been burned-- but researchers at Ball State University say beware, those devices may not be as accurate as you think.

Researchers at Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory looked at 30 subjects who used the Fit Bit Flex, One And Zip and the Jawbone up 24 devices.

Overall, they found the trackers did pretty well with steps during activities like running and walking, but not so much when it came to lighter activities like household chores. As for how many calories you burn, the devices overestimated calories burned for higher intensity movements and didn’t give enough credit for more daily activities around your house.

"Sweeping they did terribly. Laundry they did terribly. Picking up items off the floor they did really bad. Even standing, if you're moving your arms they might pick up steps," said Clinical Exercise Physiology Professor Alex Montoye.

Researchers used more calculated methods to determine the true amount of steps and calories burned.

"We had research assistants counting every step. We had our participants wear a metabolic analyzer which is a face mask that records how much oxygen you use so we could determine how many calories were being burned," said Montoye.

We found a group of three cousins at Ball State who use the devices as a workout motivator and a friendly competition among each other. They noticed inaccuracies but believe the devices are still good to have a general idea of your activity level.

"Sometimes I'll wake up in the morning and see I have 50 something steps and I'm like I don't remember sleep walking last night. But I know once I get to working out it will track those steps and make up for whatever is not tracked," Victoria Buffone said.

Researchers say the devices weren’t meant to be 100 percent accurate, instead people should use them as an overall indication of how much they are moving. In the end they believe the devices have encouraged more people to get moving and caring about their fitness level.

"People are more aware of what they do. They think about being active more they try different kind of activities so even though the accuracy of the devices may not be 100 percent I don't think the companies ever intended them to be that." Montoye said.