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Fitness Monitors – Effective or Not?

Chelsea Freleng
Chelsea Freleng

By Stephanie Krasco ‘15

What if you had a personal assistant to remind you to get up and get active, to prompt you to get a good night’s sleep, and to keep track of not just what you eat, but how much you eat? What if the assistant kept tabs on how many miles you walked and how many calories you burned in a day?

Turns out you can have such an assistant – in the form of a fitness monitor, an electronic gadget you strap on your wrist or clip to your belt that sends data to your personal computer or smart phone.

Fitbits, Nike Fuelbands, and Jawbones, among other fitness monitors, have been flying off the shelves. They have attracted people of all ages, genders, and fitness levels. But do they really help people lead healthier lives?

A Keene State professor (and alumna) and two of her students are hoping to find out. Melanie Adams ’93, assistant professor of physical education, along with juniors Chelsea Freleng and Hannah Goulis, are undertaking a study, using the Fitbit Flex.

Freleng, a junior exercise science major, has been working on creating the study for two years. She found that little research has been conducted on the accuracy and benefits of fitness monitors, and set out to find the truth about how well they work.

Last year, Freleng measured the amount of time Keene State College students, faculty, and staff spend sitting over the course of a day. She found faculty and staff members tend to sit more than students do. Therefore, Freleng and Adams sought members of the Keene State faculty and staff to participate in the study. The interest on campus was very strong and the spots were filled within 12 hours of the study’s announcement.

“The purpose of the study is to determine if wearing the Fitbit Flex changes the amount of physical activity or sitting that a person does throughout their work day,” says Adams. She believes that using technology, specifically fitness monitors, allows people to improve and increase their level of physical activity throughout the day.

Freleng has been awarded a Keene State Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to continue the study after classes end in May. The SURF grants, funded with the support of generous alumni, outside donors, and the College, allow talented students to spend their summer doing research or creative work.

“It is very important for people who have sedentary jobs to get up and move around as much as they can, regardless if their job requires them to sit at a desk all day,” she says. “Moving around and getting more physical activity has been proven to improve health.” Freleng believes using a fitness monitor is a perfect way to become motivated to get moving. “Having used the Fitbit, I think it is a great investment. It motivates you to move around more and track your movement. You can set up daily goals and are able to see each and every step you take on your Fitbit dashboard,” she says.

But will it work for the study participants? Thirty volunteers will be tracking their activity for eight weeks this spring, and then Freleng will analyze the data over the summer to determine whether using the Fitbit encourages people to be more active. The participants, all self-identified as sedentary during the work day, will have the chance to get moving – with some electronic encouragement. At the same time, they’ll be helping Freleng measure the impact that a fitness monitor can have on a person’s activity level. She plans to complete the analysis this summer and submit her results to journals for publication.

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Jane Eklund
Editor, Keene State Today
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