McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

'Just buying an Apple Watch will not magically make you healthy'

Wearable technologies the focus of upcoming free public talk

Published: May 19, 2015
Anthony Levinson
Anthony Levinson, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences

Wearable technologies like the Apple Watch, FitBit and other fitness trackers are the latest fashion and health craze, but there are questions about their usefulness for improving health, especially for those who could potentially benefit the most from them.

"There's always a lot of hype or expectations around these things," said Anthony Levinson, associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences with the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.  "But I think some of these wearable technologies like fitness trackers are probably best considered as facilitators of health behaviour change, but not a driver in and of themselves. Just buying an Apple Watch will not magically make you healthy."

The impact of wearable technology and its potential for the future of optimal aging is the focus of one of two upcoming free public health talks on health and optimal aging. They have been organized by the McMaster Health Forum as part of the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative.

The event is Thursday, May 21 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the McMaster Innovation Park at 175 Longwood Road South in Hamilton.

Nora Young, the host of CBC Radio's Spark and author of The Virtual Self, will speak. Levinson, who also holds the John R. Evans Chair in Health Sciences Educational Research and Instructional Development, will follow with a presentation and lead a panel discussion.

Levinson will discuss the challenges involving wearables, including a mismatch between the type of people who might benefit most from things like fitness trackers and the kind of people who are already using them.

"Most of the people who are purchasing wearables like the FitBit or the Apple Watch tend to be affluent people, people who might already be somewhat health conscious, and maybe a little bit younger," said Levinson.

"The challenge is for people who are older, less well off, who maybe have chronic conditions, and who might benefit from increased activity levels, are there ways in which wearables could penetrate that market?"

Another issue is integrating these devices with the typically older health care system technologies.

"There are a lot of legacy platforms like electronic medical record systems that are hard to integrate with the often proprietary systems, so the data can't talk to each other, and then there are layers of privacy and security requirements," said Levinson.

But exploring challenges like these doesn't mean he's dismissing the advantages of these devices, said Levinson.

"You can't change what you can't measure so, just like tracking calories, tracking your activity level is beneficial," he said. "Sometimes we don't always have a very accurate conception of how much we're moving, so wearables, even at their simplest level, can be a facilitator of improvements in health behaviour."

A second event on Wednesday, June 3 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. will highlight the benefits of, and simple strategies to form lasting habits for healthy, active aging. The speakers are Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, TV hosts, producers, authors, former Canadian athletes and creators of the popular fitness program BodyBreak. Stuart Phillips, professor of kinesiology, will also give a presentation.

There is free admission and parking for both events at the McMaster Innovation Park. The events will also be streamed live at:

[McMaster Health Forum Events Online]

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Level Double-A conformance, W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0