Unlike most gadgets, fitness trackers are intended to be worn all the time. They can help you move more, sleep better, and improve your overall health. And, while many of us have similar health goals, our bodies and needs are highly individualised. The fitness tracker that everyone else loves might not work for you, and vice versa.
Here's how to choose the best one for you, as well as the best fitness wearables we recommend.
What is a fitness tracker?
Fitness trackers are a catch-all term for cell phone apps, arm strap-ons, and wrist watches. They can help you get more active, monitor your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, diet, exercise routine, heart rate, sleep cycle, and oxygen levels. They also keep track of your progress and provides guidance.
Here are 5 things to consider when deciding which tracker to buy:
# Discover your ‘why’ and move forward from there
It's the first question you should ask yourself before purchasing a tracker.
What makes you want a fitness tracker in the first place? To shed weight? Training Prep for a marathon? Improve your sleeping habits? Fitness trackers can be motivating, but they won't help if you don't know what you want to achieve.
Once you've decided your why, it'll be easier to determine which specifications and features to take priority. If your big why is to run a marathon, then you will need something that tracks GPS distance, monitors your heart rate, and has a long battery life, regardless of your skill level. If you want to improve your sleep, you'll need a tracker that offers detailed sleep insights, has a long battery life, and maybe a SpO2 sensor.
Fitness trackers monitor a variety of physical and biological activities, as well as health metrics, depending on the fitness activities you engage in and the goals you set for your well-being.
# The sensors and fitness jargon: understanding it
Even though fitness buzzwords can be confusing, the basics of sensors and metrics remain the same.
To detect motion, all fitness trackers use a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes. Some will include altimeters and barometers to track elevation or the number of stairs climbed in a day.
Almost all modern trackers include a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor for health tracking. Light from green LEDs shines through your skin to measure heart rate. Trackers now include red LEDs or SpO2 sensors to measure blood oxygen levels. Those that are advanced or specialised will have a few extra sensors. A tracker with EKG capabilities, for instance, has an electrode. Galaxy Watch 4 has a 3-in-1 sensor that measures heart rate, performs EKGs, and analyses body composition. Fitbit Sense features an electrodermal activity sensor to detect stress through sweat.
The number of sensors and the types of metrics tracked can help you identify different trackers.
# Health vs hardcore training
Trackers are available for all fitness levels and goals. Garmin and Polar, for example, are well-known brands amongst outdoor enthusiasts and triathletes. A Fitbit device is better suited to people who place a high value on their overall health.
Many health-oriented trackers offer breathing reminders, guided meditation, hydration, food logging, and period tracking. They are also more aesthetically pleasing.
Hardcore fitness watches prioritise durability, downloadable maps, turn-by-turn navigation, and in-app training programmes. The Epix 2 and Fenix 7 Series by Garmin, for instance, now support kiteboarding. If you're a swimmer, you'll want something at least 5 ATM water resistant.
These trackers are designed to provide information about your body's health so that you can better plan your training.
# Don’t forget about comfort
When looking through your options, don't forget to consider the watch's size and thickness, as well as the materials it's made of. You will not wear your fitness tracker if it is not comfortable.
A priority for sleep tracking is comfort. The last thing you want is to spend all that money on a big, bulky tracker only to wake up in the middle of the night determined to take it off. Data can also be distorted by a poor fit. You may get inaccurate heart rate readings if your tracker isn't snug against your skin. Your movement data could be messed up as well if it is sliding up and down your arm.
To summarise, having a fitness tracker is a great way to measure your progress towards your goals. Make sure you keep these things in mind when choosing the perfect health tracker!