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).
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.
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.
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.