The Truth About Fitness Trackers: How Well Do They Really Work?

Last spring, I participated in my first triathalon. While I was training, whether I was in the pool, running, or on the bike, I began to notice some very fancy-looking fitness trackers that fellow workout fanatics were wearing. And I decided that I, too, wanted to track my progress as I prepared for my first major fitness milestone.

But what kind of tracker did I want? A Fitbit? The Nike Fuel Band? A Jawbone UP? I began to ask around to see what people liked and why. I knew that I needed one that worked in the water because I love to swim, but I also didn’t want to spend a fortune. Luckily for me, soon after I started my investigation, I ran into a friend at a party who was wearing a very sleek-looking, modernistic watch. But it wasn’t just a watch! It was the $120 Misfit Shine — an attractive tracker that works in water AND doesn’t look like an aircraft-to-land satellite tracking device.

Eureka! I had to have it.

A depressing fact of life for me in my forties is that, despite all the effort and exercise, I still am not a calorie-burning machine. I wasn’t one in my twenties, and 20 years later, it’s decidedly worse. I didn’t realize quite how bad it was actually until I started wearing my device.

I did settle on the Misfit Shine, which is a charming quarter-sized disc that can be worn as a watch, can be clipped to your clothes, or with aftermarket accessories, can even be worn as a necklace. Right now it only works with iOS, but the company says an Android version is in the works.

The synching process is amazing. You just tap the synch app on your device and the magic happens via Bluetooth. It uses a watch battery, so you don’t need to charge it.

You put in your data — height, weight and age,, strap in the device, and off you go.

So here is what I found out via my brand-new tracker:

The Shine says that I burn about 1,900 calories a day on average. I need to contact the company about this, because swimming doesn’t seem to use up as much energy as I thought, and I’m not entirely sure that the device is giving me an accurate reading of my in-water activity.

In general, most activity monitors seem to measure movement or limb activity, such as steps.  My suspicion that it these devices are more accurate for land activities. My anecdotal rationale for this theory is that they log walking at a fast pace as a higher energy-consuming activity than swimming. It appears that the Shine and similar devices just calculate what someone at my weight and age should be burning, based on my activity data. If you want some more scientific info, “How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers?”, is an excellent article and video that I found to be very helpful in trying to understand all of this information.


When I was down in Florida visiting my seventy-something mom, she wanted to try the Shine. It was SO cute — plus she had the same questions I had about her activity, sleep and energy output. So I gave it to her to wear for a few days. According to the Shine, my Mom, whose range of activity mostly includes hanging out in her house, going to the hair salon, and shopping at Target, burned as much energy as I do — actually, a little more. Which was no surprise to me — my Mom is metabolically gifted. She’s tall, slim, smokes, and hasn’t been active since before high school. Once when I was in high school, the family went to play tennis, and my mom showed up on the court in shorts and high-heeled espadrilles. With a cigarette in her mouth and full makeup on her face. She was a total style icon. A jock? Definitely not.

In addition to activity, the Shine also tracks sleep and deep sleep. Out of all this data, maybe that was the most revelatory: I. Don’t. Get. Enough. Sleep. I knew that my sleep was often interrupted, but what I didn’t know was that I wasn’t getting enough deep sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours each night. Depending on your age, some portion of that needs to be deep sleep.

Deep sleep is critical for many reasons: tissue growth and repair, hormone release, and more. Fast Company just wrote about “The Huge, Hidden Benefits of An Extra Hour of Sleep.” My rational mind knew all this. However, the Shine made me ask myself why was I so sleep deprived. And I realized that after all is said and done (and there is a lot of saying and doing in my house), I really crave a certain amount of time alone to just read and unwind. The only time this seems to happen is when the rest of the house goes quiet, which is usually late at night. So my “me” time was cutting into my sleep time.

These devices are only part of the answer to better health. They definitely offer information and awareness — some of which I didn’t have before wearing my Shine. But they can’t measure what you consume — a food diary can do that. And if you are eating ice cream straight from the carton and listening to Adele, there are other issues to deal with first. For myself, the hope is that over time, this device will provide me with new awareness, and will encourage me to take better care of myself — starting with more sleep, for sure.

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One Response

  1. Flossie

    I’m curious to find out what blog platform you have been utilizing? I’m experiencing some small security problems with my latest site and I’d like to find something more safe. Do you have any suggestions?|


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