by Sandra Rosenbluth, MS

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In the excitement of upgrading to a new wearable activity tracker, you may have thought, “What do I do with my old one?” If so, you’re not alone.

Wearable activity trackers have really hit their stride on the market, with numerous models and brands available at different prices in different colors and boasting different features. These popular fitness tools have been around for a number of years now, followed more recently by smartwatches, but there is no standard way to recycle or dispose of them, as wearable activity trackers are considered electronics and should not be thrown out as waste.  Fortunately, a Tufts University School of Medicine assistant professor, Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM came to the rescue and started RecycleHealth.

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RecycleHealth is a 501(c)(3) charity that collects all the unused devices tossed in people’s junk drawers, and refurbishes them for use in research with underserved populations.  In other words, people can donate their old trackers using RecycleHealth’s pre-paid mailing labels, and the staff at RecycleHealth will clean, fix, and categorize the devices, which will then get a second life in a research study.

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Ultimately, Dr. Gualtieri was interested in learning whether these abandoned devices could be collected and used to help improve the health of those LEAST likely to buy them. What about those who were older, or were low-income, or had multiple health problems? Could wearable activity trackers help them be more active?

By working with physicians’ offices, churches, and other organizations, Dr. Gualtieri and RecycleHealth’s Program Coordinator, Sandra Rosenbluth, MS, have recruited participants for research and are working towards getting answers to these questions. Recently, Dr. Gualtieri and Ms. Rosenbluth ran a pilot study with participants of a Wellness Group run by Dr. Jeff Phillips at Family Doctors, LLC in Swampscott, MA. The ten wellness group members, with a median age of 63, had never before used trackers. All had chronic medical conditions and all but one were overweight or obese. They were given free Withings Pulses, provided by RecycleHealth. Dr. Gualtieri and Ms. Rosenbluth learned some interesting things:

  • On a clinical scale, participants showed an average 1/2 lb weight loss per week and lowered cholesterol levels (a 9.2% decrease in LDL) over the 12-week period.
  • Though participants knew about trackers prior to the study, the cost, paired with the difficulty of selecting a brand and model, prevented participants from making a purchase, especially without knowing whether a tracker would really help them.
  • Even participants who knew they were sedentary were surprised and disappointed by their actual step count. The trackers proved to be great educational tools, teaching participants how to estimate their activity levels by giving them daily feedback. Participants also felt that the trackers held them personally accountable to be more active, but in a non-judgmental way.

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By the end of the study, the wellness group participants were very positive about their trackers.  A good start for RecycleHealth!

Overall, think Robin Hood, minus the thievery and with a scientific twist.  RecycleHealth accepts from those with plenty (of trackers) and gives to those with none, for the sake of better understanding how these devices can improve our health.  And by “our,” we mean everyone, not just younger, healthier people, who are currently the main purchasers of wearable activity trackers.

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So, if you’ve got a stash of unused trackers tucked away in the basement, or you work for an organization that helps underserved populations, we strongly recommend you go to RecycleHealth.com (proudly designed by Ms. Rosenbluth) and see how you can be a part of this great program.  RecycleHealth has pre-paid mailing labels available on their website and Facebook page, making things extra easy for those looking to donate.