Are Fitbits Safe for Daily Use? Learn from Experts

Fitbits have become one of the most popular fitness devices in recent times. They provide a great and convenient way to keep track of how much time you spend on the move. What better way to help you reach your fitness goals, right?

The sad reality we live in today is that the majority of people lead a sedentary lifestyle without even realizing it. This has played a major role in the rise of a range of avoidable chronic lifestyle-related diseases.

According to the US government’s Physical Activity Guidelines, the average adult should be getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week. This requirement is likely what advised the invention of Fitbits. 

They ensure that you get the minimum amount of physical activity required to keep chronic diseases at bay. What many people never stop to question is the amount of time they spend wearing the device.

Is it safe? Does it emit radiation? Is it doing your body more harm than good? Here’s what the experts have to say about it.

You might also be interested in: Fitness Tracker That Doesn’t Require a Smartphone

What Is a Fitbit and How Does It Work?

Black Fitbit with white background

Fitbit is a company that manufactures a wide range of fitness accessories. These include a range of fitness bands, smartwatches and fitness trackers all designed to track the number of steps that you take each day, your current weight and any progress you’re making on that front. They also track your heart rate and record data on your exercise session.

They even have mobile apps designed for iOS and Android-powered devices for you to get real-time fitness stats and keep track of your progress through their in-app dashboard. The company is well known for four main fitness lines, that is, Alta, Ace, Charge, and Flex.

They make water-proof bands and smartwatches that you wear on your wrist at all times so that you can keep track of your swim laps, steps, and cycle distance. You can also sync it with your mobile device to view text messages and caller information using its display.

Different Fitbits do different things. The fitness bands and smartwatches track the total number of steps you take every day. They also have an intelligent system that can recognize and differentiate between the different common exercises like biking, running, and walking.

They also have GPS built in to allow you to view a map of your route and get data on the elevation and pace. It then uses that to calculate the intensity levels of your physical activity. At the end of the week, you can then analyze your Fitbit stats to track your progress and see what areas of your day-to-day life you can adjust, to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

With that brief overview, it sounds like a pretty remarkable device, right? What could be wrong with it?

Fitbit Concerns: Are They Safe?

Man asleep in bed with image focused on his arm wearing a Fitbit

Fitbits do more than just track your physical activity during the day. They are also designed to monitor sleep metrics, which pretty much means that you have to wear it when you’re sleeping as well.

That way, you also get stats on the quality of your sleep. You would be able to find out if there’s a link between your daytime activities and whether or not they have a direct impact on the quality of sleep you’re getting.

The idea behind it is to log every minuscule detail of your activities from your water intake level to the type of food you eat. The concerns about Fitbit stem from the fact that it is a wireless device that not only connects to the internet to sync your data with your account but also connects to your mobile phone.

Any device that has wireless-capability is emitting some level of radiation. If you know a little something about electromagnetic fields (EMF), then you know there’s no escaping it. It’s all around us.  If you look online, you’ll be able to find captivating images of radiation surrounding a person.

So, whether you’re working in a public space in your local coffee shop or at the office, or sitting on your couch streaming your favorite Netflix show on your smart TV (don’t forget about the smart meter attached to your house).  You are exposed to EMF radiation virtually all the time.

If you enjoy the great outdoors, then that’s probably the only time you get a reprieve. It is, therefore, a bit of an oxymoron to be hooked up to a device that is constantly emitting EMF radiation 24/7, more so when you’re working so hard to stay fit and keep diseases at bay.

Wondering about the safety of 5G cell towers. Check out this article.

Stress on Your Body

Exercising puts the body under a tremendous amount of physical stress. Your muscles work hard to produce the energy you need to fuel your workout. Your heart works overtime to meet the oxygen demands of your muscles.

Your lungs work hard to draw in sufficient amounts of oxygen and eliminate waste in the form of carbon dioxide and excess moisture. Your skin sweats to eliminate waste, and urea that’s a by-product of working out. Every organ works in perfect harmony to detoxify your body.

Then there’s the EMF radiation from the Fitbit on your wrist. It works to negate the health benefits you’re getting from your workout. Radiation has various chemical effects on the human biological system.

It causes the large molecules present at the cellular level in your body to deteriorate. This deterioration causes an imbalance in the ionic equilibrium required for the optimum functioning of cells. One of the most harmful effects of Fitbit radiation is the oxidative effect it has on molecules.

Oxidative Stress

Oxygen is a vital component of life. It is quite literally the air that you breathe, and without it, you would die within a couple of minutes. Despite its life-giving properties, oxygen molecules also have the potential to give off very hazardous by-products. These are scientifically referred to as Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS for short.

They come about when various biological reactions in the body take place. ROS causes extensive damage to cellular elements like lipids, proteins, and DNA.

Antioxidant defense systems exist to combat this. They keep the formation of free radicals like ROS under control to safeguard against their damaging effects on the human biological system.

To clarify, free radicals are atoms (singular or a group of them) that have one or more unpaired (free) electrons. They have a very high level of chemical reactivity, which gives them an infinite potential to inflict widespread damage on cells.

The formation of free radicals occurs in several ways. These include ingesting drugs, oxidation of lipids, exposure to UV light, stress, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, certain immunological reactions, and exposure to radiation.

Here’s a quick ROS explainer video:

The body encounters oxidative stress when its antioxidant defense system is unable to adequately prevent the harmful effects of free radicals. So, given the reactive nature of EMF radiation, exposure to it is the number one cause of oxidative stress in numerous tissues of the body. It increases the concentration of free radicals, even in what would be termed as “low levels” of exposure.

Wearing a Fitbit at Night

To maintain a healthy weight and enjoy a higher quality of life, the importance of a good night’s rest cannot be overstated. Most experts hold both sleep-quality and sleep-quantity in equal measure.

There’s also a direct link between getting poor quality sleep and the impact it has on the metabolic system. This is a fancy way of saying that if you’re not getting enough Zzzzs, there’s a good chance that’ll you’ll put on weight. So, could wearing your Fitbit at night be harming rather than helping? The answer to this is a resounding, yes!

Wearing a Fitbit at night is inadvertently undoing all your daytime gains in your effort to keep the weight off. Experts recommend that you turn off all wireless sources at night before you get into bed.

Some even go as far as asking you to switch off your wireless alarm system before you hit the sheets. But, you could be pushing the envelope on that one. You won’t get much sleep if you’re tossing and turning all night worried about a burglar creeping about the hallway.

The same thing applies to baby monitors. If you have one installed in your child’s room, less than one meter away from their bed, it is the equivalent of having their bed 150 meters away from a cell tower. It could also be affecting the quality of sleep they’re getting.

Now that you have some perspective, imagine how much damage you’re exposing yourself to when you wear a Fitbit on your wrist all night? You might as well have your bed less than 200 meters away from a cell tower generating massive amounts of radiofrequency (RF) radiation.

Fitbits and Sleep Quality: How They’re Related

A man in bed not asleep looking distressed with his hand on his head

A study was conducted to investigate the effects of Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) EMF exposure on the quality of sleep a person gets. The participants comprised 67 workers aged between 24 and 57 years old who were all exposed to electromagnetic fields that were way below the ICNIRP recommended levels.

The results of the study indicated that there was indeed a positive correlation between radiation exposure to EMF and the sleep quality score, as evaluated by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index questionnaire (PSQI).

Sleep disturbances are one of the most common symptoms reported by people who suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity. The reason for this has to do with the effects EMFs have on the hormonal system.

The melatonin hormone, also called the sleep hormone, is produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It plays a critical role in the regulation of the day-night or light-dark rhythm. This is commonly referred to as the circadian rhythm.

Exposure to even the lowest levels of EMF radiation affects the night-time generation of this important hormone. Melatonin levels peak at night and dip just before you wake up. It is the body’s internal clock that tells it when to sleep and when to wake up.

When the levels are thrown into disarray, it becomes difficult not only to fall asleep but also to stay asleep. So, if you have your Fitbit on your wrist at night, the EMF radiation it emits inhibits the production of melatonin. That is what causes sleep disturbances.

Melatonin and Cancer

The benefits of melatonin don’t stop there. Extensive research reveals that the hormone plays a vital role in the prevention of carcinogenesis. There have been studies that reveal a positive correlation between the development of breast cancer and a dip in the blood melatonin levels.

So, not only is wearing your Fitbit at night affecting the quality of sleep you’re getting, but you’re also increasing your chances of developing breast cancer. It’s all a zero-sum game if you’re trying to stay healthy and disease-free.

Fitbits and Cancer: Are They a Causative Agent?

According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), EMF radiation exposure is possibly carcinogenic to humans. It is concerning that an agency that has access to an almost infinite treasure chest of resources doesn’t appear too convinced that there is a link between the rising incidence of cancer and EMF exposure.

That stance, however, can be attributed to the various economic and political interests in the multi-billion dollar global telecommunications and electronics industry. So, an admission of the harmful effects of radiation on humankind would be tantamount to shooting themselves in the knee.

Regardless of this glaring reality, we certainly don’t need the IARC to validate the correlation between EMF radiation and the development of cancer. Researchers have found more than 5,000 EMF-induced cases of cancer from 13 different countries. They have also linked the incidences on glioma, a type of brain and spinal cord cancer, to the RF radiation that comes from cell phones.

More recent studies show that there’s an apparent connection between childhood EMF exposure and the development of leukemia in children.  Another study revealed an association between the increased risk of adults developing a certain type of leukemia and their long term exposure to EMF radiation sources.

If there’s one thing all these studies show, it’s that wearing a Fitbit all day (and night) exposes you to radiation for sustained periods. The results validate what would happen to you in the long run.

This has the same effect as being close to a cell tower for long periods. There is a lot of conclusive evidence from studies done all over the world to support the carcinogenic effects of long term exposure to EMF radiation. This renders Fitbits unsafe for daily use.

Heavy Metal Exposure

Man with long hair and leather jacket playing electric guitar
Not this kind of heavy metal…though both give me plenty of stress

Flashback to 2014, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission officially recalled the Fitbit Force after an estimated 9,900 people reported sustaining injuries from the device. The device caused various forms of skin irritations, including rashes, peeling skin and blisters after wearing the Fitbit for some time.

A statement from the company asserted that the reactions were most likely due to an allergic reaction to the nickel in the stainless steel alloy used in its manufacture. They also said it could stem from the adhesives that were used to glue the parts together during the assembly of the product.

While most people believe that heavy metal harm only stems from ingestion, poisoning also occurs when it is absorbed through the skin. Even at low levels, it is generally toxic.

They promote the generation of free radicals which are responsible for causing oxidative stress and damaging biological molecules like lipids, proteins, enzymes, and DNA. Damage to DNA is especially harmful since it holds the key to carcinogenesis and neurotoxicity.

Long term heavy metal exposure has adverse effects on several body organs like the kidney, liver, lungs, and brain, thus causing a myriad of diseases in the body. To avoid this eventuality, it is better to refrain from using Fitbits altogether.

Is a Fitbit Necessary

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep track of your daily activities to improve your health. If you can do it without the help of digital devices, then that’s exactly what you need to do.

Fitbits may help you lose weight and stay fit, but they might also be cooking up a recipe of ailments that would make being overweight the least of your worries. Unfortunately, EMF radiation exposure from a Fitbit doesn’t make it safe for daily use. Even at the so-called “low” non-ionizing levels, prolonged exposure will inevitably cause widespread damage to body tissues.

If you can’t do without a tracker, then consider getting a mechanical device rather than a digital one. Wearing a basic mechanical pedometer, for instance, allows you to count all the steps you take.

Here’s my favorite digital pedometer from Amazon. It’s inexpensive and doesn’t have Bluetooth technology.

It measures the vibrations when your feet hit the ground to activate the internal counter. The best part is, it is radiation-free, which means you don’t have to worry about the long-term side effects of using it.

Unplug Every Once in a While

When choosing whether or not to use products like Fitbits, it all boils down to personal preference. It’s sort of like the decision to put your cell phone on speaker when taking a call or putting it up to your head where the radiation exposure to your brain is higher.

When all is said and done, it’s important to unplug from modern-day technology every once in a while. Constant exposure to EMF radiation increases the risk of developing health problems that could otherwise be avoided to a larger extent.

A great starting point would be to keep radiation sources to a minimum during sleep and exercise. With the mountains of health statistics out there, you can’t afford to ignore the danger that comes with constant exposure. So, you’ve taken the first step to measure the levels of electromagnetic radiation in your home. Not quite sure what the numbers mean? Check out our blog for a comprehensive guide on the units for measuring EMF radiation exposure.

Read next: An in depth guide to EMF protection clothes

References

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Kıvrak, E. G., Yurt, K. K., Kaplan, A. A., Alkan, I., & Altun, G. (2017). Effects of electromagnetic fields exposure on the antioxidant defense systemJournal of microscopy and ultrastructure5(4), 167–176. doi:10.1016/j.jmau.2017.07.003

Wang, H., & Zhang, X. (2017). Magnetic Fields and Reactive Oxygen SpeciesInternational journal of molecular sciences18(10), 2175. doi:10.3390/ijms18102175

Barsam, T., Monazzam, M. R., Haghdoost, A. A., Ghotbi, M. R., & Dehghan, S. F. (2012). Effect of extremely low frequency electromagnetic field exposure on sleep quality in high voltage substationsIranian journal of environmental health science & engineering9(1), 15. doi:10.1186/1735-2746-9-15

Li, Y., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Meng, X., Zhang, J. J., Xu, D. P., & Li, H. B. (2017). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancerOncotarget8(24), 39896–39921. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.16379

Committee on the Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities-Phase I; Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board; Division on Earth and Life Studies; National Research Council. Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities: Phase I. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2012 Mar 29. A, Radiation as a Carcinogen.

Brain, J. D., Kavet, R., McCormick, D. L., Poole, C., Silverman, L. B., Smith, T. J., … Weaver, J. C. (2003). Childhood leukemia: electric and magnetic fields as possible risk factorsEnvironmental health perspectives111(7), 962–970. doi:10.1289/ehp.6020

Röösli, M., Lörtscher, M., Egger, M., Pfluger, D., Schreier, N., Lörtscher, E., … Minder, C. (2007). Leukaemia, brain tumours and exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields: cohort study of Swiss railway employeesOccupational and environmental medicine64(8), 553–559. doi:10.1136/oem.2006.030270

M. Valko, H. Morris and M. T.D. Cronin, “ Metals, Toxicity and Oxidative Stress”, Current Medicinal Chemistry (2005) 12: 1161. https://doi.org/10.2174/0929867053764635