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Fitness tracking devices to motivate older Australians, new research finds

Media release

Researchers from Curtin University have found fitness tracking devices worn by older Australians could help promote physical activity and reduce the risk of health issues in older generations.

The research, published in the Journal of BMC Geriatrics, examined the reliability and accuracy of two popular fitness trackers, Fitbit Flex and ChargeHR, and found they were suitable for use by older adults.

Lead researcher Dr Elissa Burton, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said the research offered new information about the effectiveness of fitness tracking devices and how they can be used by the older population to promote physical activity.

“Fitness trackers have always been popular with younger generations and we were interested to see if these devices were accurate when used by older people because they often move and walk differently to younger people,” Dr Burton said.

“Currently two-thirds of older Australians are not physically active and this lack of activity can potentially lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and increased falls.

“The data from the study shows that both fitness devices displayed excellent reliability and good accuracy for the total distance covered and steps monitored by the participants, making them an ideal choice for older Australians looking to monitor their physical activity on a daily basis.”

Dr Burton explained that while more research needs to be done on the topic, this was one of the first known research studies to utilise an older population in both a laboratory and free-living environment using the two devices.

“This study was unique as it allowed us to monitor participants in the comfort of their own home, which was critical to the study as many older adults are likely to revert back to usual habits and reduce their activity levels when they are in a comfortable environment,” Dr Burton said.

“The research not only shows that the fitness tracking devices are an ideal choice for older generations looking to monitor their day-to-day activity, but could also potentially contribute to reducing the risk of common health issues through improved cardio-vascular fitness.”

The researchers monitored a group of 31 participants in a laboratory setting using a two-minute-walk test, and then over a 14-day-period in their home environment. The average age of the participants involved in this study was 74.2 years old.

The research was also conducted by researchers from Curtin University, University of Melbourne and the University of Arkansas.

The research paper, Reliability and validity of two fitness tracker devices in the laboratory and home environment for older community-dwelling people, can be found online here.