Technology and Aging: Activity Trackers

Wearable activity trackers have become a popular accessory for individuals who want to monitor and keep track of their activity levels. Depending on the specific model, activity trackers can keep track of steps taken, distance walked, calories burned, exercise levels, sleep, and even your heart rate. The New York Times Well Guide to Activity Trackers offers an updated list of activity trackers and comparisons based on their own testing.

Older adults who use activity trackers can match their own activity levels to those recommended by health professionals. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggests that older adults aged 65 years and older should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous- intensity physical activity per week. The guidelines are designed to help older adults achieve health benefits and improve functional abilities.

Studies have shown that using a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity. Trackers that measure steps often encourage users to take 10,000 steps a day. According to the American Centre for Disease Control an individual can meet the 150 minutes of physical activity per week by completing 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day.

This year the American National Sleep Foundation has created new recommendations for older adults 65+. They recommend that older adults receive seven to eight hours of sleep a day (no less than five hours and no more than nine hours). While trackers have the potential to ensure those numbers are met, there is some controversy on how accurate they are in measuring sleep. According to an article in Live Science “experts say that while most trackers can in theory tell when a person is awake versus asleep, they are prone to mistakes”.

Using activity trackers can lead to potential health benefits, but are older adults buying into the new technology? Often new technology is designed without taking in to consideration the needs of older adult users. Barbara Beskind is a 90-year-old designer working towards changing that. An article entitled At 90 She is Designing Tech for Aging outlines Beskind’s contributions to ensuring that new technology is user friendly for older adults.

A study conducted by Georgia Tech’s Home Lab in partnership with AARP’s Project Catalyst initiative found that “while consumers (age 50+) are excited about new technology and the potential benefits of sleep and activity trackers – the devices’ design and utility are lacking in features that would encourage long-term use or adoption”. The study highlights the need for technology designers to become more aware of the mature consumer market.

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