Have Smartphone, Will Exercise

Smartphones may track exercise as accurately as pedometers and accelerometers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People looking to track their exercise likely don't want to count their steps in their head, and pedometers are just one more thing to remember. Enter the smartphone. Tons of people have them, and they may be able to accurately count steps.

The great advantage of using a smartphone to track exercise, said the authors of a new study on the topic, is that most people in the US already have one. These researchers said they hope their study findings will help people learn to use their smartphones to improve their health.

Mitesh S. Patel, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, led a research team to assess the accuracy of smartphones in comparison to other wearable, step-counting devices like pedometers or accelerometers.

“Increased physical activity facilitated by these devices could lead to clinical benefits not realized by low adoption of pedometers," Dr. Patel and team wrote. "Our findings may help reinforce individuals’ trust in using smartphone applications and wearable devices to track health behaviors, which could have important implications for strategies to improve population health.”

Dr. Patel’s team recruited 14 healthy adults at the university to participate in walking trials. The study subjects walked on a treadmill wearing a pedometer, accelerometer and smartphone.

The study patients wore all of the devices at the same time. Also, one of the researchers actually counted each step on the treadmill.

The patients performed four walks with the treadmill set at 3 mph — two walks of 500 steps and two of 1,500 steps. At the end of each walk, Dr. Patel and team compared the reading on each device or phone to the manual step count.

Although none of the devices or phones was perfectly accurate, the smartphones were at least as accurate as any of the other devices.

Unlike a pedometer or accelerometer, which a user must remember to put on, the smartphone is often already in a pocket or purse. The smartphone often goes everywhere the user does.

Tracking steps is one way to encourage people to engage in physical activity. Although pedometers achieve the same purpose, they have not been widely adopted, according to Dr. Patel and team.

This study was published Feb. 10 in JAMA.

A grant from the National Institute on Aging partly funded this research. Dr. Patel received funding from the US Department of Veteran Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Study author Dr. Kevin G. Volpp received research funding from Humana, Merck, Discovery, Weight Watchers and CVS. He also received consulting income from CVS and VAL Health and is a principal at VAL Health. All of these organizations are involved in commercial weight loss activities, medication manufacture or sales.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2015
Last Updated:
February 10, 2015