Do You Wear Your Fitness on Your Sleeve?

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 25, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Gregg Nicandri, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon who’s on his feet all day. When he first strapped on a fitness device to see how much he walks, he was pretty confident that he was a step-churning, calorie-burning, doctoring machine.

Not exactly.

“I found out that I essentially walk 2,300 [steps] a day. That’s nothing,” Nicandri says with a laugh. “But just with that knowledge, I decided, ‘I need to be more active.’”

Nicandri, who works at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, is one of millions of Americans who use “wearable” devices to track and improve their health. Lots of those are on the market. But do you know how to use the detailed data they collect?

For Good Measure

You can clip fitness trackers to your clothes, strap them onto your wrist, and even rock them like jewelry. The main things they measure are:

Movement: Almost all count your steps, distance traveled, and calories burned. Many can tell you how many floors you’ve climbed and how many minutes a day you’re active.

Beyond that, some can tell the difference between a swimmer's breaststroke and a backstroke, measure how hard your sneaker hits the road, and can tell whether you’re running on an elliptical machine or down a basketball court.

“It comes down to: 'What do you want it to do?'” says Jill Duffy, a wearables expert for “'And how do you plan to use it?'”

Shut-eye: Many devices measure how much you sleep, and how you snooze. The info can be eye-opening.

“I never thought about the quality of my sleep. I’m a complete believer now,” Nicandri says. “I wake up more refreshed and I’m more productive throughout the day. I notice the difference just using this information.”

Heart rate: Some devices use an optical sensor to measure heart rate, at rest and while exercising.

These devices can’t track diet. They have no idea what’s on your plate unless you confess it. You’ll probably need to manually enter what you eat on an app or on a web site, choosing from a database.

Mining the Data

For some people, just wearing a device is a reminder to get up and move, get to bed at a reasonable hour, or pick up the pace when they work out. But since you have all that data, why not use it?

On most devices, you can see how you’re doing simply by glancing at your device. A more-detailed health “picture” is kept on the device’s compatible web site and mobile app. That makes it shareable, too.

Lee Jordan is a trainer from Jacksonville Beach, FL, who works with people who have a lot of weight to lose. He keeps tabs on his clients -- some live as far away as Alaska, Europe, and Asia -- through data his clients share with him online.

When a client sleeps poorly, meets a goal, or misses a workout, Jordan gets notified on his smartphone. And if the client needs help, he’s a call away.

“I integrate it directly into the person’s life,” Jordan says.

That’s putting your wearables to work.

“We’re going to get to the point where I, as your personal trainer, have all your data,” says Ted Vickey, senior consultant for fitness technology for the American Council on Exercise. "What do I do with that data to keep you active, keep you healthy?”

That’s putting your wearables to work.

Show Sources


David Geier, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, Sports Medicine Specialists of Charleston.

Gregg Nicandri, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, University of Rochester Medical Center.

Lee Jordan, trainer, Jacksonville Beach, FL.

Jill Duffy, contributing editor,

Ted Vickey, senior consultant for emerging technologies, American Council on Exercise.

Endeavor Partners: “Inside Wearables, Part 2,” July 2014.

Bravata, D. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 21, 2007.

Case, M. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 10, 2015.

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info