Media Releases

Research finds popular free fitness apps are inaccurate and unreliable

December 7, 2015

Toron­to, ON—If you’re look­ing for a tool that will keep new year’s res­o­lu­tions on track in 2016 and thought your smart­phone could serve as an inex­pen­sive, pock­et-sized per­son­al train­er, new­ly-pub­lished research has found that the three of the most pop­u­lar free apps designed to track your fit­ness progress are seri­ous­ly flawed.

The eval­u­a­tion was led by Pro­fes­sor Guy Faulkn­er and U of T mas­ter’s stu­dent Krystn Orr and was pub­lished in the jour­nal, BMC Research Notes.

“We know that more and more Cana­di­ans want to take their health into their own hands and these apps seem like a good way to do just that,” Orr explains. “Self-eval­u­a­tion can be very effec­tive in lifestyle change as well, so it’s impor­tant that peo­ple are get­ting the most accu­rate infor­ma­tion pos­si­ble and using tools they can trust.”

When they launched their project in Novem­ber 2014, Accupe­do, Moves, and the Run­tas­tic Pedome­ter apps were the most pop­u­lar free down­loads, so they ran each through a series of tests to mea­sure their accu­ra­cy. Each of the apps is com­pat­i­ble with Android and Apple smart­phones and gath­ers step stats via the phones’ built-in accelerom­e­ters, GPS nav­i­ga­tion tools, or a com­bi­na­tion of both.

Sub­jects used the apps in a vari­ety of sce­nar­ios. The most basic was a sim­ple, 20-step test dur­ing which they wore a tra­di­tion­al pedome­ter on their hip and held the phone in their hand. They found that in each instance, the pedome­ter was pret­ty much bang-on, but the phone apps were off by about five per­cent. Sim­i­lar results were found after a 40-step stair climb test, three days of unstruc­tured, reg­u­lar activ­i­ty and a tread­mill test.

Over­all, researchers say there was “an unac­cept­able error per­cent­age in all of the appli­ca­tions when com­pared to the pedome­ter.” Orr sug­gests invest­ing in the wear­able tech­nol­o­gy that was designed specif­i­cal­ly for track­ing move­ment as pre­vi­ous stud­ies sug­gest they are more accu­rate. How­ev­er, she points out that wear­able tech like the Fit­Bit can get pricey. “Real­ly, there’s no rea­son you can’t just stick to a tra­di­tion­al pedome­ter. It’s prob­a­bly the most reli­able and cost-effec­tive tool for self-track­ing your steps.”

Pub­li­ca­tion link:–0500/8/733/about


Valerie Ian­covich
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist
Fac­ul­ty of Kine­si­ol­o­gy & Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to