On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

The promise and pitfalls of fitness trackers

Share story

fitnesstrackers
Fitness trackers, from left, Basis Peak, Adidas Fit Smart, Fitbit Charge, Sony SmartBand, and Jawbone Move, are posed for a photo next to an iPhone, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in New York.
Bebeto Matthews / AP

We keep seeing headlines like this:  Are fitness trackers the future of healthcare? Can wearables save your life?  So we thought we'd talk to our weekly medical analyst, Dr. Jon Hallberg, about how useful they are in the clinic — and some of the pitfalls associated with them.

“It’s pretty basic now to know, are you standing every hour? How many calories are you burning? How many calories do you want to burn,” said Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic.

He said patients are already using devices for continuous glucose and oxygen monitoring, and for sleep studies. Hallberg said it’s only a matter time before that technology can be included in a watch.

But he said fitness trackers can lead to an unhealthy obsession with our vitals, especially for people who are already active.

“The worst case I can think of was someone who was so obsessed with their heart rate that they noticed that over the course of a week or so it was a few beats more than normal, on average,” Hallberg said. “It led to a call to a cardiologist, led to a stress test, led to an angiography, all of which ultimately became unnecessary.”

To hear more of this conversation, click play on the audio player above.