As fitness trackers increase in popularity, they are becoming an increasingly common part of daily life. Coming in the form of wristbands, watches, and clips, fitness trackers (also known as activity monitors) help you to better understand how much you move during the day by counting steps. They can also monitor your sleep and how well you rest; and some can even tell you your heart rate.
Fitness trackers can provide a slew of benefits. They increase your awareness about your body, movement and health. They can motivate you to get up and walk more, and exercise on a daily basis. While there is no research showing that fitness trackers will help you lose weight, a study by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that wearers of activity monitors were more likely to get the 30 minutes of daily exercise needed to reduce the risk of disease and improve overall health. Daily reminders hold users accountable and some fitness trackers even remind you to get up and move when you’ve been sitting for awhile.
There is also a social aspect to fitness trackers. Many connect to apps that allow you to share your results and activities on social networks. With so many people wearing fitness trackers (1 in 5 American adults own a fitness tracker, and 1 in 10 wear them daily!), the “how many steps have you walked today?” question often comes up in conversation, leading to encouragement (or competition) amongst friends.
With this high level of popularity, the marketplace has become flooded with options. But before you buy, you need to know what features matter most to you and how much you are willing to spend.
Here are some of the top questions you’ll need to answer before you buy:
As you begin your search, the first question is what is your budget? Fitness trackers range in price from $30 to $250 depending on the number of features and capabilities.The lower end products typically don’t have displays (you have to sync them with your smartphone to view stats), may have more problems with accuracy, and tend to have fewer features. The high end models are most likely in wristwatch form, and have a heart monitor and more.
Steps & Beyond
The original activity monitors tracked how many steps you walked in any given day. They were fancier, more accurate pedometers. But now, these trackers can monitor a plethora of activities, including counting calories burned, floors climbed, and recording the length of the activity. These features give you a fuller picture of your exercise and movement.
Distance & Speed
To go along with that, GPS is now becoming a very common feature. The GPS feature often comes on the activity trackers that are in the form of a watch. Popular amongst the fitness crowd, GPS is great for seeing how far you went during a particular activity like a run, hike, or bike. The NewBalance RunIQ, Tom Tom Spark 3, and the Samsung Gear 3 are some popular models.
Another athletic-minded feature is the heart rate monitor. Many fitness buffs like to be able to track their heart rate while participating in their favorite activity to make sure they exercising in the target heart rate zone for optimal health benefits. It is also great for beginners just getting started with exercise so they can make sure they are not pushing themselves too hard. The heart rate monitor is also an important feature for anyone with a heart condition. Being able to see what their heart rate is while they exercise will keep them exercising safely. Some heart rate monitors come with a chest strap to measure the heart rate, others shine a light to get your pulse. The process is called photoplethysmography (also known as PPG), and the light detects changes in blood volume in small blood vessels. It’s often claimed that the wrist-only heart rate monitors are not as accurate, but a Stanford study found that their accuracy is actually quite good. Wristband fitness trackers with a built in heart rate monitor had only a 5% margin of error.
How Long & Well You Sleep
Sleep tracking has become a very popular feature of activity monitors. If you wear your tracker to bed, it registers when you are still, and then records that you are asleep. Once you begin to wake, it records you as awake. Typically, these devices allow you to track your sleep patterns through an app. Some devices even purport to track your sleep cycles, allowing you to see what periods you were asleep, awake, and restless. While experts believe these devices can tell if you are asleep or awake, they do caution to not read too much into the sleep cycles. “Consumers should not expect that these devices will be able to distinguish between sleep stages because these devices rely on movements, whereas sleep stages are defined primarily by brain activity,” said Michael Scullin, a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology. That said, most adults get less than 7 hours of sleep per night (7 to 9 hours are recommended for optimal health and well being), so being able to see roughly how much sleep you are getting on a night-to-night basis may help you to get to bed earlier.
Other Features to Consider
There are a few other features to consider like display. Some fitness trackers, like watches, will have large screens to deliver all your data right there; others will require you to sync with an app. Some fitness trackers are waterproof, which is great if you live in a rainy climate or like to swim. Depending on how stats obsessed you are, you may want to check out the app in advance. Some have much more detailed reports, while others are pretty simple.
Fitness trackers typically come in one of three styles: a watch, a wristband, or a clip. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Watches: Watch fitness trackers are typically the most robust in terms of features. From smartwatches like the Apple Watch to Garmin brand watches, these devices can typically do it all: track steps, sleep, and monitor heart rate. Many can play music, connect to your phone to get text messages and phone calls, and of course function as a watch. These come with a higher price tag, but if you are a daily watch wearer, they may be the way to go.
Bands: The most common form factor for fitness trackers, these bands are often slimmer and lighter than a watch. They also tend to not be the most attractive accessories. There are some solutions to this as companies realize there is a need for attractive fitness trackers. Mira fitness trackers are attractive bracelets; Bellabeat makes fitness trackers that can be worn as a bracelet, necklace or clip; and Tory Burch teamed up with Fitbit to make a stylish version of their popular product.
Clips: Clips are the most discrete versions of fitness trackers. They are often the cheapest option, but also typically provide you with the least amount of data. Clip-on fitness trackers are typically worn on the belt or waist of pants. This can actually improve accuracy of step counting as it isn’t counting a step every time you move your arm. But, step counting is the majority of what they’ll do.
Once you’ve considered price point, desired features, and form factor, it comes time to actually select a fitness tracker! Here we’ve highlighted a few of the top brands and their features.
Fitbit is pretty much synonymous with fitness trackers. One of the first to market, Fitbits are a popular choice due to the brand recognition and positive reviews from users. Starting with the Fitbit Tracker in 2008, Fitbit has since expanded to a large variety of models with different capabilities.
FitBit Charge 2
The Fitbit Charge 2 is highly regarded as the best fitness tracker on the market. It has all of the popular features, including: GPS, heart rate monitor, all day activity tracking, sleep tracking, wireless syncing to apps, and reminders to move. It also includes guided meditations, information on your cardio fitness levels, and the ability to change bands. The FitBit Charge 2 retails for $130, a mid-range price in the market.
The Alta HR has all the same features as the Charge 2, but the Alta HR comes in a slimmer, sleeker form factor, with a slimmer band and smaller screen. It also goes for $130.
At only $59.95, this is a cheaper option thanFitBit. The band doesn’t have a screen, nor does it have GPS or heart rate monitoring capabilities. But, it is a thinner, less noticeable band and the tracker has the ability to be removed and worn as a bangle or pendant, so you don’t always have to have it on as a wristband.
The Zip is a clip-on variation from FitBit. It only tracks steps and calories, but is very discreet as it clips onto your waistline. For people who just want the basics and something that doesn’t have to be seen, this is a great option. It retails for $59.95.
The Blaze is Fitbit’s foray into the smartwatch world. It has everything from on-screen workouts to music controls to sleep stages tracking. Plus it also includes all the other features you can get in the other Fitbit bands. This is a top-of-line product and retails at $229.
Garmin is another brand that has a large variety of fitness trackers. Garmin, originally a GPS software company, has leveraged its technology to move into the activity monitor field. One area that Garmin emphasizes is community with an online community where you can connect with others, compete in challenges, and encourage others toward their fitness goals.
This is Garmin’s answer to the Fitbit Charge 2. A medium sized band with a small screen, the vivosport has heart rate tracking, GPS, fitness monitoring tools, stress tracking, and boasts a long battery life of 7 days. Retailing at $199, this band comes in roughly middle of the pack.
A unique smartwatch with the ability to personalize the watch face screen, the vivoactive 3 heart rate and GPS capabilities, plus the ability to create and download workouts, fitness and stress tracking, and easy download of all data. It also can connect to your phone and has a variety of apps available, making it a real all-in-one device. This comes at a price of course, with the vivoactive 3 retailing at $279.
The vivomove HR has pretty much all the same features as the vivoactive 3, but it looks like a traditional watch, making it a more fashionable option than some of the others. Retail price is $299.
This is Garmin’s lower end product and retails for $79. It tracks steps, calories burned, distance traveled, and monitors sleep. It automatically syncs with the app on your phone, so your data is immediately backed up. It also has what Garmin calls MoveIQ, which is a feature that automatically tells when you are doing a different activity (running vs. biking vs. swimming), so you don’t have to manually switch in the interface. Another plus is its 1-year battery life, which means no charging.
The Moov Now fitness tracker takes fitness tracking to a whole other level. This device provides real time coaching of your running, biking, cardio boxing, swimming and weight training. It analyzes your form, counts reps, measures your motion and provides feedback while you work out. It also tracks all activity and sleep, and is waterproof. Moov Now retails for $59. The lower price is due to a lack of screen and its reliance on the phone app for a lot of its functionality.
Samsung Gear Fit 2
The Samsung Gear Fit 2 is a thinner band at a lower price point than a smartwatch ($119), but offers some of the capabilities of a smartwatch like text messages being shown on screen, music storage (it can also connect to Spotify), and the ability to receive phone calls. It also can track multiple exercises automatically, and has built in GPS, heart rate monitor and sleep tracking.
Tom Tom Spark 3
The Tom Tom Spark 3 covers most of the same ground the others do, but it also offers indoor training mode and route exploration, which shows you the route you’ve taken, so you can easily find your way back to where you started. The Spark 3 retails for $129.
As you can see, there are a lot of variations and options to choose from. Many sporting goods stores and consumer electronics stores will carry a good number of the popular models. To get a better sense of the look and feel, check them out in person before purchasing. Consider what your goals are with the fitness tracker, what features matter most to you, and how much you want to pay. With those factors in mind, you’ll be able to more easily narrow your choices and find a fitness tracker that’s right for you!