With the widespread expansion of technology in products such as cell phones, video games, computers, and more, it is no surprise that technology is starting to play a role in physical fitness and activity. The market for wearable fitness trackers has become increasingly popular, with new products being introduced that are more accurate and advanced than those before. Two of the most prominent products in the market are Fibit’s Alta HR and Garmin’s Vívosmart HR activity tracker. These products are in the mid-level price range for activity trackers, the Garmin is priced at $149.00 and the Fitbit at $149.95. The Alta HR and Vívosmart HR share many of the same features including tracking steps, distance, calories, and measuring heart rate. Both products also give hourly reminders to move during the day with vibrations on the wrist. The Alta HR differs from the Vívosmart HR because it has the ability to track sleep patterns, log food and water consumption, and has the same goal of movement everyday. While the Vívosmart HR does not track sleep, it does track the number of floors climbed and adjusts each daily goal based on the level of activity the day before. The market for wearable activity trackers is extremely popular for younger adults who enjoy the satisfaction of tracking their activity, use the product for training purposes, or use the device to help with weight loss. The market for activity trackers is well known with many younger adults; however, the benefits of these devices would also be exceedingly useful for older adults as well.
Benefit of Fitness Trackers for Older Adults
With age, the prevalence of many physical conditions and diseases increases. For example, a large number of older adults suffer from atherosclerosis, heart attacks, hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases. However, living a healthy and active lifestyle can help prevent these diseases, which is why fitness trackers should be of interest to older adults. According to a 2009 study examining the walking profiles of older adults, researchers found that coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and depression are all associated with lower physical activity (Scott, Swartz, & Cashin, 2009). In this study, 415 older adults (70-80 years old) were tracked by wearing a Yamax pedometer for seven consecutive days to track average steps and distance. To ensure the accuracy of the pedometers, participants completed a 20-step pedometer calibration to assess the function of the pedometer; pedometers tracking 19-21 steps were permitted as acceptable for the research (Scott et al., 2009). The results of the study found that the participants averaged just fewer than 4,000 steps a day (Scott et al., 2009). According to the study, fewer than 5,000 steps is considered sedentary and anywhere between 6,000 and 8,500 steps is a healthy goal for older adults. With these goals in mind, 74% of the participants in this study were classified as sedentary and at a higher risk for a multitude of diseases (Scott et al., 2009). Due to the large percentage of older adults not being as active as they should, fitness trackers would be extremely beneficial for their needs.
Remaining physically active in older age is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and fitness trackers are one way that can encourage and promote more active and fit habits in old age. The Alta HR and the Vívosmart HR are two wearable fitness trackers that can allow older adults to track their steps and distance walked throughout the day and also gives reminders throughout the day to keep moving, even if it is just for a few minutes. Many older adults may struggle with being active throughout the day because they are simply unaware of how little they are moving. With wearable fitness trackers, older adults can know exactly how much they have moved and what more they need to do to hit the 6,000-8,5000 step goal. With the Vívosmart HR, the goal changes daily based on the previous day, which is a great feature for older adults. Many older adults that are walking less than 4,000 steps a day may need to work up to their higher goal, so the Vívosmart HR wearable device can help them work up to their higher goal. With the added motivational element that wearable fitness trackers provide, older adults may feel more driven to beat their goals and compete with friends or family. While the Alta HR and Vívosmart HR have great benefits to help keep older adults moving, the products do have drawbacks that need to be addressed.
Optimizing the Benefits for Older Adults
Fitness trackers, such as the Alta HR and the Vívosmart HR have the potential to make differences in the way older adults view physical activity; however, the products need some revision to accommodate and appeal to older adults. Some seniors may be unaware of the products due to the advertising models and socioeconomic status. Companies such as Fitbit and Garmin tend to advertise their products with images of young, fit adults climbing mountains or running marathons. However, it may be beneficial for these companies to also advertise the benefits of their devices for older adults who engage in less strenuous physical activity. Another reason why some seniors may be unaware of these products and their purposes is due to socioeconomic status. The Alta HR and Vívosmart HR are both about $150, which can put economic strain on older adults who are struggling with their finances. Some may not want to spend a large sum of money on a potential risk, so companies could offer trial periods on their products to draw in older adults and ensure the accuracy and quality of their products.
Along with changing marketing tactics for older adults, some features of wearable fitness trackers must be adapted for older adults. In a two-part 2016 study, researchers tried to examine potential barriers of activity trackers for older adults. The first part of the study evaluated a non-wearable (myfitnesspal.com) and a wearable (Fitbit One) fitness tracker using Nielsen’s 10 heuristics for user interface design (Preusse, Mitzner, Fausset, & Rogers, 2016). The design of these fitness trackers violated consistency and standards, visibility of system status, and error prevention (Preusse, et al., 2016). One example is the misleading colors used on Fitbit’s website, the colors of adds were the same color as important links on the webpage (Preusse, et al., 2016). Due to older adults and their declined inhibition, they are less likely to suppress irrelevant information and may end up clicking of the wrong part of the site and end up on a different webpage. Phase two of this study was a field study conducted with 16 participants, 65-75 years old (Preusse, et al., 2016). In this part, participants were assigned to use myfitnesspal.com or the Fitbit One to use for 28 days and then completed questionnaires and final interviews about their perceptions of the product (Preusse, et al., 2016). While many had positive things to say, with the most reported positive attribute being the encouragement aspect, many also had complaints. Some complained that the device seemed inaccurate, format was hard to use, and it seemed overall too complex (Preusse, et al., 2016). To optimize the product for older adults, the accuracy should be measured on both younger and older adults, more tutorial videos may be needed, and the overall design of the product and any supplemental resources (such as an app or website) should be formatted to be simple and clean.
Fitness trackers such as the Alta HR and the Vívosmart HR have a great potential to help change physical activity habits of older adults but are still in the adjustment period. The spotlight is on companies such as Fitbit and Garmin for what is to come next in the market of fitness trackers and older adult consumers. With increasing rates of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes, now is the time to change the norm of physical activity in older adults. Once fitness trackers become more accurate and user-friendly, they have the chance to make older adults start moving more and remain physically healthy.
Preusse, K. C., Mitzner, T.L., Fausset, C.B., & Rogers, W.A. (2016). Older Adults’ Acceptance of Activity Trackers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 36(2), 127-155. doi: 10.1177/0733464815624151
Scott, J.S., Swartz, A.M., & Cashin, S.E. (2009). Ambulatory Physical Activity of Profiles of Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 17(1), 46-56.