What Makes a Good Fitness Tracker?

Introduction

For anyone who is trying to improve their health, a fitness tracker could be an awesome way for them to keep tabs on their progress. They do not just keep track of exercise; some fitness trackers can even monitor heart rate patterns and lifestyle habits, and keep you informed with calendar alerts and weather reports.

The main features you will want to look for are the types of sensors the tracker uses, how the device tracks your workouts, and other features like water resistance, heart rate tracking, oxygen usage statistics, information on sleep patterns and diet, etc. Just like with any other kind of technology, the sheer number of options out there are enough to make anyone dizzy; but once you grasp the basics, you will be able to make sense of what you are looking at.

Sensors: Different Types and What They Do

A fitness tracker can come with all kinds of software that help you monitor trends and patterns, but the sensors are the core of the device’s functions. Every tracker has at least three accelerometers, to identify linear acceleration along the three axes. To identify rotation, trackers also have three gyroscopes. Between these two sensors, a fitness tracker can determine not only when you are up and about, but even what kind of activity you are doing given the right software.

For increased accuracy, you can get a tracker with magnetometers, which use magnetic fields to determine which direction is “up”. This is not necessarily essential, but it does increase the capabilities of the tracker.

Another sensor system you might see is one that utilises photoplethysmography, or “detecting heartbeats by using light”. It combines light sensors with LED lights, both facing the user’s wrist. As blood is pumped through the veins, the sensors register changes in the light that is reflected, giving the tracker accurate data on heart rates.

This is not the only data that a tracker can get on your heart patterns – some trackers, like the Withings Move ECG, are able to sense EKG (electrocardiogram) data. This means that anyone with previously undetected heart arrhythmias may be able to idnetify the condition before it becomes more serious, or monitor an already diagnosed arrhythmia as they go about their day.

Tracking Exercise: How Does it Work?

A typical fitness tracker does not just give you raw data on your movement levels; it is specifically made to help you with your workouts. As such, most trackers have timer features, either by setting an alarm, or using a stopwatch. You should be able to tell the tracker what kind of activity is going on – walking, jogging, swimming, and so on – but some trackers, like the Fitbit Charge 3, are able to recognise the kind of activity you are doing as soon as you start.

For anyone who wants more advanced data on their fitness levels, look for devices that monitor the VO2 max (or maximum rate of oxygen usage), variations in heart rate, and your rate of recovery post-workout. You do not even have to stick to normal trackers to get these features – Jabra Elite Sport Bluetooth earphones can monitor all these processes and more.

Everyone knows that electronics and water do not usually get along well, but swimmers can get trackers that are water-resistant. If the device has a rating of IP67, you can keep it under a metre of water for up to 30 minutes; with a rating of IP68, you can take the tracker up to 1.5 metres underwater, for the same amount of time. Trackers with these ratings can be worn in swimming pools or showers, but if your underwater activities will take you deeper than 1.5 metres, look for devices like the Misfit Shine 2, which are water-resistant at depths of 50 metres or less.

What else can Fitness Trackers Do?

Obviously every fitness tracker will track your fitness, but some can even track your overall health trends. You can get data on your sleep patterns, food intake, hydration, and monthly cycles for females. If you need a little help getting into healthier patterns, you can set reminders to take a break and get some light exercise.

Alternatives to Fitness Trackers

So far the focus has been on devices that are specifically made to track exercise and fitness levels, but these functions are not exclusive to fitness trackers. Smartwatches can also perform many of the same tasks by using fitness apps, plus you can use them for many of the same jobs as a smartphone. The Apple Watch Series 4, for instance, is able to make and receive calls even when you are out of the house and away from your phone. Smartwatches can be a good bit pricier, but statistically speaking, you are also more likely to still be using one in a year compared to a fitness tracker. If you are not already a fitness enthusiast, your tracker has a 50% chance of eventually being forgotten in a drawer. A good compromise could be the Fitbit Versa 2, which comes with Amazon Alexa and wireless payment capabilities. While it is still primarily a fitness tracker, the added functions could make it easier for you to stay connected.

A Quick Note

Both fitness trackers and smartwatches are typically worn 24/7 in order to get the big picture, but this is interrupted every week (for trackers) or every few days (for smartwatches) when the battery gets low. The types of batteries vary from alkaline, to CR2032 to the 18650 button top battery. The Garmin Fenix 6 smartwatch uses solar power to partially recharge with ambient light, so you will not have to take it off as often.

Fitness trackers and smartwatches share data via Bluetooth with your cell phone, so make sure the device you are getting is compatible with your phone. In most cases you will not have any problem with this; Apple watches, of course, will only connect with iPhones.

While it is possible to find smartwatches for $1,500 (£1,125) and up, you should not have to spend more than $200 (£150) for a tracker or smartwatch that gives you all the basics, plus an array of extras to suit your fitness needs. Make sure the device you choose fits your preferences and strengths; after all, this could be an investment that improves your fitness levels for the next few years and beyond.

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