Wireless devices like Fitbit and Garmin claim to accurately measure a person’s activity levels throughout the day. As the devices continue to gain popularity, researchers at University of Florida’s Department of Health Policy and Outcomes have tested various devices and their accuracy across age groups.

Their findings? The devices aren’t as accurate as they claim to be. Here’s the nut:

“Over the past 5 years, wearable devices, smartphones, and apps have become more ubiquitous, and have become widely recommended tools of behavioral change for weight loss by the general press, the health and fitness industry, and health care providers. In this study, we evaluated the accuracy of a selection of recently available wearable wrist-worn devices and smartphones with respect to step counting, as well as the impact of several variables of interest, most notably age.

BMI, height, weight, and dominant hand do not seem to impact the accuracy of step count. However, age does affect accuracy, and some devices tend to underestimate the number of steps walked by older users of wearable devices. This finding may be a minor issue for people trying to lose weight by adhering to a 10,000-step walking program, as they may walk more than planned. However, older and/or slower participants focusing on increasing physical activity may be negatively affected, and may struggle mentally if they fall short of 10,000 steps.”

Read the full study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information here.

How does this apply to you, and to your Walker Tracker walking program? The most important thing to remember, perhaps, is that raising your activity level is relative, not absolute. With current technology, your device can’t always accurately tell you exactly how many steps you’ve taken, or how far you’ve traveled throughout the day. But it can give you a baseline average. It’s up to you to raise that average slowly over time. 5,000 steps on your Garmin might be 7,000 steps on my FitBit. The most important thing is to keep raising that average, a little every day.

Linked Study: Mobile Device Accuracy for Step Counting Across Age Groups
Copyright ©François Modave, Yi Guo, Jiang Bian, Matthew J Gurka, Alice Parish, Megan D Smith, Alexandra M Lee, Thomas W Buford. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 28.06.2017.