Fitness Tracking Devices Monitor Every Step You Take

Fitness tracking devices have become the latest trend, but do they live up to all the hype? Just because something is popular doesn't mean it actually works. So, before you hand over the $100+ for one of these gadgets, it makes sense that you would want to know if it can actually deliver on the promised benefits.

Pedometers and heart rate monitors are being forced into retirement by these new tracking tools that have the ability to monitor every move you make, analyze the intensity or productiveness of these movements, and then present them to you in a neat and colorful chart that condenses your entire day into segments of a pie graph.

If you wake up in the morning feeling sluggish, you simply have to check your smartphone to find out how well you actually slept. If you put on a few pounds, your fitness tracker can help you discover where the extras calories came from (providing you were honest and entered them into the program in the first place).

What to Consider When Choosing Fitness Tracking Devices

1. Features.  There are a lot of different devices out there, but you will want to choose the one that best helps you meet your personal fitness goals. All models will count your steps, estimate calories burned and calculate distance traveled, but it's the extra features that can make a big difference in effectiveness.

You don't want so many bells and whistles that you need a degree in engineering to figure out how to use it; but, you also want one that will give you the information you need to get the results you are looking for. 

Do you want to record your sleep quality?  Do you want a heart rate monitor? Do you want to track exercise sessions separately from everyday activities? What about idleness reminders, diet and nutrition tracking, and skin temperature or sweat measurements? There is no point in having features that you are never going to use, especially if you have to pay extra for them, but to get the best results from your device, it is important to make sure that it can do what you need it to do.

2. Ease Of Use. You want your device to be as simple as possible to use. If it's too complicated you will probably not bother. Most devices will automatically sync with your smartphone, tablet, or computer, but not all apps are created equal. You want to find one that is easy to navigate and offers everything you need. If you have to use several different apps or programs you probably won't stick to it.

3. App Support. Fitness trackers are designed to be used with an App or website that will display your information; however, you must consider compatibility when choosing your device. Some apps are only available for iOS or Android, but not both. Also, not all android apps are compatible with every android phone, so be sure to double check.

4. Wireless Connectivity. Most devices will sync wirelessly through an app or program but there are still some that have to be plugged in directly. iPhone models older that 4S may not have the correct version of Bluetooth and many Android products are not equipped with Bluetooth technology so wireless connection may be a problem.

5. Design.  As mentioned, these devices are meant to be worn all the time, so it is important that you choose the right one. Wristbands such as FitBit Flex or Nike FuelBand are the most popular style because they are the easiest way to ensure your device is always with you. However, not everyone wants a bracelet, especially if it violates employee dress code or safety rules or gets in the way of watches and other jewelry.

Plus, if you live in workout clothes it may match your wardrobe perfectly, but it might not complement your more professional attire. In this case, a clip-on device such as the FitBit Zip may be the better choice. It simply attaches to your waistband or slips into your pocket. If you have a sleep tracker, the clip on models may be less convenient, but some people also find the wristbands uncomfortable when sleeping. It is all a matter of preference.

6. Sleep Tracking. This is a great feature, especially if you travel, work shifts, or suffer from sleep difficulties. Your device will tell you how long you slept, how well you slept, and how often you woke during the night. Proper sleep is an important part of a successful health and fitness program, so if tracking your sleep quality is a priority, you will want to make sure your device is equipped with this capability.

setting your fitness tracking devices

7. Battery Life. Remember, you are using this device 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so the battery is of utmost importance. Many of the better devices can go as long as two weeks between charges, but you will have to take it off to recharge it so you won't be tracking activity during this time.

Some models use a long-life replaceable battery like the kind in a wrist watch that will last for 6-12 months. It is probably a good idea to keep an extra battery handy so it can be quickly replaced, otherwise you may be without your tracker for a while.

8. Altimeter. Some devices will only track the number of steps, but many models can also measure elevation. Withings Pulse will record how many meters of elevation you have completed while Fitbit One and Fitbit Force will measure elevation in how many flights of stairs you have climbed.

9. Alerts. Devices come equipped with various alerts. Some will vibrate if you have been idle too long or wake you up in the morning.

10. Water Resistance. Yes, you are supposed to wear them all the time. No, most of them are not waterproof. While water resistant may be sufficient for showering or doing dishes, you will likely want to find a waterproof device if you do a lot of swimming or diving.

11. Social Networking. If sharing your data with friends is important to keeping your motivated, then you will want to find a model that emphasizes social networking and makes sharing your stats fast and effortless.

Advantages of Fitness Tracking Devices

  • Motivation: Studies have shown that keeping track of your activity may actually encourage you to make healthier choices and stay more active. By being able to see all the information laid out before you, it is easier to identify areas that need improvement and find simple ways to begin making positive changes.  Fitness tracking devices may motivate you to create personal goals or challenges which could result in you taking the stairs more often or going for a walk instead of watching television.

    The social aspect of  these tools is also a major advantage. Most devices allow you to join public groups, create private groups with your friends, or use social media services such as Facebook to share your stats with others. A little friendly competition can be a great motivator, and knowing that people are following your progress can be the extra push you need to stick to the program.
  • Real Time Information and Feedback: Evidence shows that people who keep logs or journals are more likely to achieve their health and fitness goals. The more information you have available, the easier it will be for you to tailor a program for success. But, sometimes our memories or perceptions aren't quite as accurate as we think. 

    Many dieters are surprised at how much food they actually do consume when they keep track of every morsel that goes into their mouths throughout the day. A little  nibble here and there may seem insignificant but  can quickly add up to a lot of calories. Similarly, you may feel like you put in your 3000 steps for the day when, in reality, the total was closer to 2000. Wishful thinking, exaggeration, a positive attitude, or a lack of diligence in keeping accurate logs can lead to misinformation that impacts your success.

     Fitness tracking devices gather all the information, compile your stats and provide you with a fairly clear idea of your activity level, progress, and overall health. No misconceptions or subjective perceptions – just the facts! And since many of these tools can calculate information that your hand written logs cannot, you will get real-time feedback so you can achieve your goals even faster.
fitness tracking device
  • Habit Forming: If used diligently, fitness tracking devices can help you develop healthy habits. Whether it's to meet a personal challenge or impress your social networking friends, when you stick to something long enough it eventually becomes part of your lifestyle.

    After a while, going to bed earlier to make sure you get enough sleep will become a habit. Grabbing an apple instead of a donut will become second nature. And, taking the stairs instead of the elevator will become automatic, something you do without even thinking about it. The healthy habits you establish will live on, even when you stop using the device.

Disadvantages of Fitness Tracking Devices

  • Accuracy: Many fitness tracking devices base their calculations on generic programmed settings for particular categories such as age, gender, height, or weight. So, the information you receive will be approximate but not necessarily exact. 

    Some devices are better than others for allowing you to program in your specifics and you can increase the precision by choosing one that also measures things like heart rate or skin temperature, but it still all comes down to numbers. It is not an exact science and it can't take into account your personal metabolism, body type, stress level, or the myriad of other factors that make you uniquely YOU.
  • 24/7: Fitness tracking devices are designed to be worn all the time, which may be a big disadvantage or inconvenience depending on your job or lifestyle.
  • It is Only a Data Collector: These fitness tracking devices are created to be life-trackers and information gatherers. Basically, in the words of the Police (the musical band, not the law enforcers) they record  “every breath you take, every move you make.” But, information is just information. It's up to you to do something with it. 

    Your tracker will prod you when you have been idle too long, but it cannot physically kick you off the couch. It will tell you that your morning latte is derailing your weight loss program, but it can't stop you from drinking it. It can be a great data collection tool, but if you are expecting it to change your life, you will be greatly disappointed. That part is up to you.

  • May Be Misleading: Fitness tracking devices record all activity so, depending on how it is used, you may be misled into thinking that you are doing more than you actually are. 3000 steps broken into 50 step segments around the flat floors or your office is far different from 20 minutes of stair climbing or a 3-mile jog on hilly terrain. 

light dumbbells and fitness tracking devices

Fitness Tracking Devices

Fitness tracking devices can be a useful part of a health and fitness program, but they can only do so much. Self-tracking can work well for some people, particularly those that are motivated by numbers and don't need the encouragement of others. But, for many of us, these devices are most effective when they are viewed as only one tool in our fitness arsenal.

They are a great way to connect you with others, keep you accountable, manage your program, track your progress. If used properly, fitness tracking devices can make you aware of problem areas and keep you focused on the goal. In other words, they provide you with an amazing amount of information, but your success will depend on what you do with it.

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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.

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