Fitness trackers and watches are excellent devices to remind you to be active or meet your minimum daily goal. But are they safe to wear?
Is it true that it contains non-ionizing radiation emitted by wearable technology or fitness trackers that is the same yet less energetic than that emitted by an iPhone or android? Let’s get to the latest research today to find out!
So, Are Fitness Trackers Safe to Wear?
Yes, fitness trackers are safe, wearable devices.
While it is true that wearable devices emit small levels of RF or electric and magnetic fields (EMF) radiation, it is so weak. However, it should not be a huge health concern. No evidence would support others’ concerns that these devices may cause cancer.
On the contrary, wearables may motivate wearers to engage in certain kinds of behaviors that would help them stay active and healthy. By strengthening the immune system, helping control weight, and reducing insulin and sex hormones, a fitness tracker reduces one’s risk of 13 types of cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even confirmed that cordless phones or devices that use radiofrequency (RF) radiation to send signals differ from other radiation types, like those emitted in X-rays.
Short-Term and Long-Term Health Effects of Low-Powered Radiofrequency Fields Exposure: Key Facts From the World Health Organization
According to the World Health Organization, tissue heating is the primary interaction mechanism between the human body and radiofrequency.
Yet, there’s no consistent evidence of adverse short-term health effects from exposure to low-frequency radiofrequency fields below the level that causes tissue heating.
Animal studies further reveal no increased cancer risk for long-term exposure to the same radiofrequency fields. Some large multinational epidemiological studies are still ongoing.
Still, it is vital to give yourself a break from wearables, just like your phone.
Remove Your Fitness Tracker While You Sleep
Experts recommend taking off your fitness tracker while you sleep, as putting your hand on your head could expose the brain to low-frequency radiation waves.
The low amount of radioactive frequencies may also cause distress to your other internal organs or cause sleep disturbance. But it depends on the overall exposure rate of the EMF radiation type.
Moreover, prolonged daily use of wearables likewise poses a risk for allergic contact dermatitis because of the components that come into contact with the skin. It includes, but is not limited to, rubber components, dyes, adhesives, and metals.
If you need to track your sleep health, avoid trackers with Bluetooth or WiFi features or at least disable them at night. Doing this enables you to have accurate fitness tracking features still but doesn’t get exposed to radiation.
Impact of Fitness Trackers on Mental Health
Another aspect of fitness trackers that we should also give attention to is their aspect of people’s psychological health.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Health Education elucidated the harmful aspect of fitness trackers. Most (70%) of the students in their study report engaging in compensatory behavior to reach a step goal, while 50% do the same to achieve a caloric goal.
Some compensatory behaviors in these study subjects involve decreasing food intake and increasing exercise the next day. Findings suggest that people may depend on their wearables, which can create a negative relationship with exercise.
Another impact on mental health is when joining a fitness community turns toxic. It can happen when people compare themselves to their peers, amplifying their insecurities.
How Safe Are Fitness Trackers Based on Brands
Fitness trackers and wearables vary in terms of brand and manufacturing process. So, let’s look at the safety of these devices based on the most popular brands.
Most Fitbit devices have a wireless feature called Bluetooth that enables the wearable to connect to other electronic devices, including cell phones. So, Fitbit devices do emit magnetic and electric fields (two EMF radiation forms).
Although Fitbit devices are generally safe, their EMF has been shown to impact the body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
Melatonin is released during the biological night, providing an internal biological signal to the body that it’s time to rest. Light exposure halts or slows the production of melatonin.
The brain’s pineal gland may translate the low-power electromagnetic fields as a form of light, affecting melatonin production and, eventually, the body’s sleep-wake cycle. In short, wearing your Fitbit while sleeping may be the reason why you have sleepless nights.
Garmin devices have the same energy characteristics as Fitbit. Yet, the level of radiation is comparable to a smartphone and should not cause concern if you wear it under the six-hour mark.
Therefore, avoid too much low-frequency radiation exposure and affect your sleep patterns by not continuously wearing it while you sleep. Some older models have also caused skin or wrist discomfort when worn for long periods.
You may also opt for Garmin Vivosmart HR Activity Tracker or any Garmin models with a disabled Bluetooth feature but can still track essential details.
No study shows Apple watches can cause harm to the human body. They have been tested and made sure to meet the applicable limit to RF exposure.
Yet, they have a tracker and Bluetooth capabilities that may cause electromagnetic hypersensitivity symptoms (EHS). These include dermatological signs (burning sensation or redness) and vegetative and neurasthenic symptoms (concentration difficulties, tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, digestive disturbances, heart palpitation, and nausea).
To avoid electrohypersensitivity, wear your Apple watch a bit loose to prevent pressing your veins too hard. If symptoms persist, don’t wear your Apple watch for a few days and consult your doctor.
Other Tips To Safely Use Fitness Trackers
Aside from reducing your exposure to low-frequency waves during sleep, here are other tips for using fitness trackers.
1. Avoid Wearing It Close to Your Vital Organs
Some people don’t simply wear their fitness trackers around their wrists. They also place it around their ankle, neck, finger, inside their shoes, or within clothing.
Although their radiation level is minimal, avoiding wearing them close to your vital organs, like the heart, is safe. The chest straps or belt clips may not be a good choice if you’re concerned about radiation exposure near your organs.
2. Limit Usage
Since your wearable device has low-frequency radiation, you can reduce your usage to enjoy its benefits while minimizing health risks.
3. Reduce the Length of Time Using the Fitness Tracker
Another tip to safely use your fitness tracker is to limit the time you’re using it. For example, wear it only during workouts. The less time you spend being exposed, the safer it will be.
4. Keep Your Device Updated
Software updates are essential for security fixes. That’s why keeping your wearable up to date will ensure you have bug fixes and the latest security features in place.
5. Restrict the Amount of Tracking Data Being Collected
The concern about fitness tracker safety comes not just from long-term radiation exposure but also the collected data. Location data, for instance, is essential and must be protected.
A 2021 study showed that many health apps are designed to gather personal data. Fitness trackers of health apps can track your every move, everywhere, and every second. These features will help you analyze your activities, such as hiking, running, camping, or cycling. Yet, hackers can access your information once they see potential security holes.
So, if you want to maintain your privacy while using fitness trackers, use the wearable anonymously or take some safety precautions. If you only want to track your heart rate and steps but are not interested in checking your sleeping habits, turn off the sleep tracker feature.
How to Set Up and Maintain Healthy Boundaries With Your Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers don’t necessarily cause compulsive behavior, yet they can be a vehicle for it. Some people, for instance, often check their wearable trackers during sessions.
Sure, health and progress data is good to see where you’re at and make positive changes in the future. However, it can still be a red flag when the numbers on the tracker make a person anxious.
Don’t worry, though, as we provide you with these ways to set and maintain healthy boundaries with your fitness tracker.
Be kind to yourself
Caring for ourselves may seem uncomfortable, but it’s an essential part of kindness. And it is done with an understanding that we are human.
When it comes to achieving your fitness or weight loss goal, no day is the same. Be kind to yourself when you don’t meet those goals. Please continue to do the joyful movement in other ways, nourish yourself, give time to rest, and thank your body for what it’s doing for you.
Focus on feeling good
How your mind and body feel during and after an exercise should be more important than the number you see on a fitness tracker. You can also move in more fulfilling and fun, like walking, dancing, roller skating, or swimming.
Plus, if you’re feeling the pre-workout dread, prioritize fun while still hitting your goal. Put on a dazzling gym outfit or play your favorite tune, and you’ll be surprised at how much confidence and energy you’ll have after the workout.
The Bottom Line
Overall, fitness trackers are not dangerous to your well-being, contrary to others’ safety concerns.
However, fitness trackers expose you to low-frequency EMF radiation from Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Cellular capabilities. They’re just like your smartphone.
Minimize your risk by not wearing a fitness tracker all the time and keeping the device away from your sensitive areas. But if you’re especially sensitive to wireless radiation, maintain a fitness tracker out of your hand and pocket.
For more information on fitness, bodybuilding, and nutrition, visit ExpertFitness.org.
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Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER
I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.
If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.