How Wearable Tech Is Changing Exercise Research

Published May 18, 2014   |   
Rachael Rettner

The technology in fitness trackers is changing the way researchers study exercise, allowing them to gather much more detailed information about how people move throughout the day, experts say.

The change is being driven, in part, by advances in accelerometers, the sensors often found in fitness trackers that detect motion, and the speed and direction of that motion. Wearing an accelerometer-containing device on the waist or the wrist can capture a person’s movement throughout an entire day.

The wealth of information detected by today’s accelerometers provides researchers the opportunity to study not only exercise, but also sitting, standing and walking, and eventually get a better idea of how these activities affect health, experts say.

In the past, researchers relied on questionnaires to find out what activities people engaged in during the day. But such surveys captured only a slice of people’s time, because they asked about specific activities, such as whether a person went on a brisk walk or biked to work, said Richard Troiano, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute’s Applied Research Program.

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