Fitness trackers set Singaporeans’ hearts racing

Eager to keep a check on their health, many people are buying fitness trackers (left) in a craze that has seen more than US$2.3 million (S$3 million) spent in six months.

Nearly 19,000 of these gadgets were sold from September last year to February this year, said market research firm Gfk. This worked out to almost 3,200 units a month.

Sales were highest in December, with over 5,200 units sold for more than US$530,000 in all.

The trackers typically cost US$100 to US$200 each but more sophisticated ones can cost more.

The Gfk report looked at eight major brands of health and fitness trackers, which offer a total of nearly 50 models in Singapore.

These devices usually come in the form of wristbands which track one's steps, distance covered, sleep and heart rates. Users can input the amount of calories and water consumed.

Some people take to the device so well that they almost never take it off. IT product manager Sidney Go, 41, takes off his Jawbone UP24 wristband only when he showers or does water sports.

He uses it with other third-party applications to track his weight, sleep, and activity during and after work.

"It's more a motivational tool for me to want to exercise more, and achieve and exceed my daily goal of 16,000 steps," he said.

Mr Gerard Tan, account director for digital world at GfK, said the gadgets are still at the infancy stage of the product life cycle as they were launched here barely a year ago. They appeal mainly to tech-savvy early adopters, he added.

As the market gets more crowded, manufacturers who want to stand out will have to identify distinct features or create new wearable designs and experiences, he said.

Doctors say these gadgets can spur people to be more active, but warn against inaccuracy.

Dr Christina Low, a general practitioner at SMG Medical, said the gadgets can be especially effective for less active individuals as they can ease them into a healthy lifestyle. As users can see the number of calories burned immediately, it incentivises them to exercise and eat moderately.

But she noted that fitness trackers may not show accurate readings for all types of activity. "For example, someone who is playing a Wii (console game) while sitting down might log the same level of activity as someone who is pushing a stroller uphill," she said.

Dr Philip Koh, chairman of the medical board at Healthway Medical Group, agreed. "The number of steps should be (of) a certain nature or else you will be bluffing yourself," he said. A day of window shopping is less of an exertion than a jog at a park, he said.

Dr Jeremy Chow, a cardiologist from Gleneagles Hospital Singapore, stressed the need to interpret the data correctly even as he noted that devices which can monitor sleep can offer insights into conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea, which usually causes snoring.

"The data obtained should be discussed with medical personnel if there are any abnormalities," he said.

This article was first published on May 02, 2015.
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