Physical activity is an important factor to a healthy aging experience. If older adults are physically active throughout their life, they can age with less complications and diseases along the way. Fitness trackers have become popular in the past few years and have been shown to help individuals increase their physical activity and overall wellbeing.
There are a variety of fitness trackers on the market, two of the most prevalent being the Jawbone UP3 and the Fitbit Charge 2. There is not much difference between the two, however some prefer one over the other. The Fitbit Charge 2 has many functions including heart rate monitoring, step tracking (distance, calories burned, flights of stairs, stationary time vs. active time), sleep monitoring, clock with a stats screen and wireless syncing to an app on a smart phone (Fitbit, 2017). The Jawbone UP3 tracks almost the same thing as the Fitbit Charge 2 including a heart rate monitor, step tracker (distance, calories, stationary time vs. active time), sleep tracking (light sleep vs. deep sleep), goal setting and wireless syncing to an app on a smart phone (Jawbone, 2017). These two trackers are used by wearing them around your wrist for days at a time and syncing them with a smartphone to transfer the data from the band to the app. People have used devices like the Jawbone UP3 and Fitbit Charge 2 to help with motivation, weight loss as well as to keep their physical fitness in check.
Fitness trackers should be of interest to the older adult population as they could serve an important part in keeping them healthy and physically active throughout later life. As older adults age and retire, their risk of sarcopenia increases as their muscle strength and endurance decreases around twenty percent across adulthood. Sarcopenia increases the risk of falls and other injuries that could harm them and or others. By utilizing fitness trackers, older adults can visually see their exercise progression and how their bodies change over time. Increasing their mobility and participation in physical activity will help sustain muscle mass that they have and prevent it from deteriorating further.
Another part of the body that fitness trackers can have a positive impact on is the brain. The brain is the control center of the body, therefore when it is sick or not working to the best of its ability, the rest of the body suffers as well. By utilizing fitness trackers and building them into an older adult’s routine, physical activity and exercise is expected to go up. Exercise has been proven to increase the production of brain derived neurotropic-factor (BDNF) through numerous studies and research objectives looking at dementia. The cool thing about BDNF is that it promotes neurogenesis, and especially in the hippocampus where memory is located. BDNF can also delay cognitive decline, therefore older adults should want to participate in physical activity and exercise to help decrease their risk for developing some form of dementia (Dong-Hee, Kyoung-Hee, & Jongmin, 2016). There are countless benefits that older adults could obtain from fitness trackers, however their technology has some draw backs.
With modern day technology’s rapid evolution, older adults can sometimes be left in the dust and may not know what kinds of technologies are out there or how to use them. Fitness trackers are a somewhat new phenomenon and trend that has caught on across many demographics. Every day it seems like another company is introducing another bigger and better fitness tracker to the market. A study from the European Journal of Sport Science looked at ten different fitness trackers including SenseWear Armband Mini, Basis B1 Band, Withings Pulse, Misfit Shine, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Zip, Garmin Vivofit, Jawbone UP24, Nike + Fuelband SE, Polar Loop and the New Lifestyle (NL-1000 Series) (An et al, 2017). This study just shows how many options there are out there for older adults to choose from. Each band tested in the study has a sister band or multiple other bands that are also fitness trackers with only a slight difference between them. Having this many options and brands available could be confusing or complex as it is a newer technology and choosing the best fit may be more difficult for older adults.
Another limitation to these fitness trackers is their accuracy in collecting data. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences compared four different fitness trackers on 99 older adult participants from the ages of 62 to 101 with a variety of ambulatory impairments. They found that the trackers consistently underestimated the number of steps taken throughout the day; this may turn some older adults away from fitness trackers but the data is not significant enough to support that the accuracy of the fitness trackers are unreliable or invalid (Floegel, Florez-Pregonero, Hekler, & Buman, 2017).
The ability to log one’s daily activity level and track it overtime opens new doors for older adults to get out and be active. Physical activity and exercise have a social aspect to them along with their physical and mental benefits. Social interaction is also an essential part to healthy aging and by utilizing fitness trackers like the Jawbone UP3, opens doors for physical activity and exercise opportunities as well as a community of others participating in the same activities. On the app connected to the Jawbone UP3, an individual can add friends and follow other people as well as join a variety of challenges that people from all over the world participate in. It is a great way to meet people while getting a healthy daily dose of physical activity.
At the end of the day, the main goal of fitness trackers is to track physical activity data to encourage an individual to meet the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommendations for older adult physical activity. ACSM recommends that adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This can be broken down into 30-60 minutes’ bouts of moderate-intensity exercise for five days a week or 20-60 minute bouts of vigorous-intensity exercise for three days per week (ACSM, 2017). These guidelines are set as roadmap to the being the healthier version of yourself that you can be. By having older adults work towards 150 minutes’ total for the week is a fantastic goal as it gives them something to look forward to in the future and requires them to participate in physical activity.
Fitness trackers like the Jawbone UP3 offer a variety of benefits for older adults with being more physically active being the major one along with increased muscular strength, improved cognitive function, social interaction and goal setting. Productive aging is essential to aging in a healthy way to maximize what ability older adults must make growing older more enjoyable for them. Fitness trackers are a great way for older adults to keep active and keep interacting with one another into old age.
ACSM. (2017). ACSM – News Releases. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from http:/www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-release/2011/08/01/ascm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise
An, H., Jones, G. C., Kang, S., Welk, G. J. & Lee, J. (2017). How valid are wearable physical activity trackers for measuring steps? European Journal of Sport Science, 17(3), 360-368. Doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1255261
Dong-Hee, C., Kyoung-Hee, L., & Jongmin, L. (2016). Effect of exercise-induced neurogenesis on cognitive function deficit in a rat model of vascular dementia. Molecular Medicine Reports, 13(4), 2981-2990. Doi: 10.3892/mmr.2016.4891
Fitbit, Inc. (2017). Fitbit Charge 2. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.fitbit.com/charge2
Floegel, T.A., Florez-Pregonero, A., Hekler, E. B., & Buman, M.P. (2017). Validation of Consumer-Based Hip and Wrist Activity Monitors in Older Adults with Varied Ambulatory Abilities. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences, 72(2), 229-236. Doi:10.1093/Gerona/glw098
Jawbone. (2017). UP3. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://jawbone.com/fitness-tracker/up3
Written By: Chessa Hastings