Nike FuelBands subject of BYU student and study experimentation

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The Nike FuelBand studies heart rate and other vitals during exercise to help others perform at their peaks. Photo by Sarah Hill

He might have declined the invitation under normal circumstances. But on a cold, dark weeknight, BYU senior Bryan Ray glanced down at his Nike FuelBand and then accepted the offer.

Released in early 2012, the Nike FuelBand is a pedometer, calorie counter and wristwatch in one. It’s also a tangible connection to the growing online Nike community. FuelBand consumers can sync their devices online, set daily fuel point goals (a measurement of daily activity) and compare their progress to members of similar demographics. 

“My friend called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to go on an adventure,’ and I thought, ‘Man, it’s really cold outside, I’m already tired and I don’t want to go outside,’ but then I looked at my FuelBand and I was about 200 fuel points off,” Ray said. “I was like, you know what, I haven’t missed my goal yet and I need 200 more fuel points for my goal. So I went out and had my adventure.”

While the fuel points may be motivating, on campus the FuelBand is most commonly utilized as a research tool in an ongoing study, as the $149 price tag makes the band inaccessible for many students.

The study examines the impact of air pollution on endothelial progenitor cell activity, a critical bodily function that repairs the endothelium — the lining of blood vessels often prone to disease.

Because physical activity also impacts endothelial progenitor cell activity, participants’ daily exertion must be carefully monitored so that it can be distinguished from the effects of air pollution.

Ray is a participant in the study, which is overseen by BYU professor of economics C. Arden Pope, who explained the central role of the FuelBands as measurement tools.

“One of the reasons it’s so important is that you can imagine that during a bad inversion, people don’t go outside and exercise as much as when there’s not an inversion, so this is exactly the kind of situation that could result in confounding,” Pope said. “We want to control confounding activity.”

However, Pope noted that while the FuelBands are fun gadgets, they aren’t always accurate measuring tools.

“They seem to do a really good job with walking, running, playing basketball, those things where you are moving like that,” Pope said. “It doesn’t do a good job with swimming or doing something with your hands like a stair stepper.”

Pope recommends a simpler and more cost-effective method of motivation, which he implemented in the study in addition to the FuelBands.

“Just keep a simple diary of what your exercise was today, whether you lifted weights,” Pope said. “I ran ‘x’ number of miles, it took ‘x’ amount of time. That’s probably just as good a motivator as anything.”

BYU senior and study participant Matt Hubbard found that wearing the band encouraged him to step up his daily activity.

“There have been times where I’ve been like, ‘I’ll go play basketball to get my fuel,’” Hubbard said.

But despite the improvement, he doesn’t see the band as a practical purchase.

“I think $150 is a little expensive,” Hubbard said. “If it were 50 bucks or so, I would have bought it. It’s not really accessible for the average college student unless they are a real health nut.”

Tim Fitt, a BYU sophomore and Nike aficionado, hasn’t bought the band yet, but he’s planning on it.

“It’s one of those cool things; everyone likes to see their numbers, and it can track just about everything you do and it turns it into points, something that you can compete with,” Fitt said. “They found a way to make daily activity into a game — it’s something just about everybody would be interested in.”

For Fitt, the product is worth the price.

Everything I do is centered around that athletic lifestyle, and so it’s something that would be more pertaining to me,” Fitt said.   

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