Motivation, Wearable Technology, and Living with MS

Patient Expert

Wearable fitness tracking devices are becoming ever more popular. Do you or someone you know in the MS community wear a device, such as those made by Fitbit or Jawbone? I didn’t until last summer when I took part in a research study sponsored by Biogen Idec in which 250 people living with MS were recruited to wear a FitBit One for three weeks and to answer a questionnaire related to their use of the activity tracker.

What I quickly learned after wearing the device only a few short weeks was that there was NO WAY I was coming close to reaching the 10,000 steps/day that my doctor recommended. Absolutely, no way Instead I was averaging closer to 2000 steps/day.

In isolation, that information didn’t motivate me to walk more. But then I realized that if I used the device regularly, I could use the information to improve and develop new habits. This may be one of the greater benefits of using tracking devices. In a recent JAMA article, authors state that the power of a wearable technology may not lie in driving health behavioral change, but in facilitating the development of new habits (Patel 2015).

At the end of the 3-week study, participants were allowed to keep the device and I continued to use it. But honestly I didn’t take advantage of all of the accompanying website and mobile application features until after I upgraded my smartphone in the fall. So on Halloween, I weighed myself, began recording everything I ate, documented exercise sessions, and established a weight loss goal in the application.

After some time, I could begin to see patterns in the data collected. I saw the effect of water retention following Rituxan infusions and Thanksgiving in November. I could visualize the impact of traveling on my exercise schedule. After two months, I could also see that weight loss was not as simple as exercising more, eating less, and creating a calorie deficit according to the FitBit data.

At the end of December, I did some calculations. Based on the food I had eaten and the amount of calories FitBit said that I had burned each day, the device was overestimating  my calorie deficit by almost 700 calories/day. That’s a significant data error when your goal is to have a daily deficit of 1000 calories/day.

In the first nine weeks, I had only lost five pounds, granted though that this time period included Thanksgiving, Christmas, two trips, post-Halloween treats, and gaining muscle through increased exercise. In January, I readjusted how I used the FitBit information and over the past six weeks, I’ve dropped 14.5 pounds as a result.

The value of the tracking device has not been in the accuracy of the data, but in the interpretation of the information to assist me in being accountable for my choices and to motivate me to continue to do better for myself. Researchers have found that the FitBit One is one of the most accurate devices when it comes to measuring motion (Case 2015). So it’s cool to learn that I’ve taken 404,814 steps, climbed 646 floors, and walked 171.65 miles since November 1, 2014. I’ve also used the exercise bike for 52.5 hours riding over 620 miles!

As a result of these improved behaviors and habits, I don’t really feel any lighter yet even with a 19.5 pound weight loss. But I do experience less spasticity and more energy. I have less pain in my arthritic knees and believe I am stronger. Whoohoo!

Please share in the comments section. Do you use a health fitness tracking device? If so, what do you find is its greatest benefit to you?

See More Helpful Articles:


Case MA, Burwick HA, Volpp KG, Patel MS. Accuracy of Smartphone Applications and Wearable Devices for Tracking Physical Activity Data. JAMA. 2015;313(6):625-626. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.17841.

Chen, C. Biogen Straps Fitbits Onto MS Patients' Wrists. December 23, 2014. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from

Patel MS, Asch DA, Volpp KG. Wearable Devices as Facilitators, Not Drivers, of Health Behavior Change. JAMA. 2015;313(5):459-460. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.14781.