Popularity of fitness wristbands increasing

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Gina Duwe
Friday, May 2, 2014

EDGERTON--Using her iPad synched with a fitness band around her wrist, Jayne Schweiger tracks her daily steps, eating habits, water intake, physical fitness and sleep.

She started using the Fitbit in January and has lost at least 15 pounds, she said.

“I think it gives you more impetus to follow healthy eating and exercise,” she said.

But the wristband isn't magic—she's still doing boot camp workouts three times a week, eating healthy and monitoring her steps while she works as a nurse at Edgerton Hospital and Health Services.

“The nice thing about it is it holds you accountable as long as you're entering the data in the program, and that's a daily thing with your water and the calories you've eaten,” she said. “It just holds you accountable.”

Wearable fitness devices such as the Fitbit have been out for a couple years, and they're steadily gaining in popularity locally. Experts predict massive growth for the industry.

The fitness smart bands are estimated to reach 8 million annual shipments this year, growing to more than 23 million units by 2015 and more than 45 million by 2017, according to Canalys, an independent analyst company.

Jennifer Ludwig, dietician and nutrition services manager at Edgerton Hospital, has noticed more people using them in the last three to six months.

It's a commitment, with the majority of devices costing about $100, but for a lot of people it's a reality check, she said.

Features on the flexible wristbands range from automatically tracking steps and quality of sleep to synching with a computer, smartphone or tablet device to input food and water intake. People can set goals for each category and monitor their progress with the system. Users can join online groups of friends to track or compete against each other.

People track their sleep by tapping their devices when they go to bed and again when they wake. The bands estimate the amount of restless sleep by monitoring movement.

Ludwig uses her Fitbit to try to hit a daily calorie goal.

“It's really eye opening how quickly things can add up in that area,” she said.

Sometimes it can feel like she's been really active, but when she looks at the data, she sees that's not really the case.

“It just has everything in one place, and it's really nice to keep organized,” she said.

Ludwig and Edgerton Hospital are working with sixth-graders at Edgerton Middle School to teach students about fitness and nutrition using Fitbits. Twenty students are wearing the devices.

The school is working with a professor at UW-Whitewater to study the impact the Fitbits are having on students' wellness using pretest and posttest surveys on students with and without the bands.

“They're all engaged in a weekly competition that tracks how many steps you take,” social studies teacher Steve Zartman said. The top male and female each week becomes the step leader, a title that earns a special colored Fitbit band.

“It gets them involved, that's for sure,” Zartman said. “They're pretty fired up about how many steps (they take) per day. It's a big deal on Monday morning.”

The school also provides all students with iPad minis, so students are able to track their progress in real time. The default goal is 10,000 steps a day, though some students have bumped it to 15,000, Zartman said.

Ludwig recommends most adults do 15,000 steps a day, which equals about 7.5 miles, depending stride. Many adults have a hard time reaching 10,000 steps, she said.

She said fitness bands can be appealing for several reasons, including those who like gadgets.

“If someone is a techy type of person … it's a lot of fun to have,” she said. “For someone who maybe thinks they can't understand why they're not meeting some of their fitness goals, it's a great eye-opener," Ludwig said.

"It's a nice way to stay accountable to yourself when creating health and wellness goals.”

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