Building up your fitness can be difficult to manage when you want to understand metrics. So are fitness trackers worth it to help you gain more details around this information? For me the answer is a hands down yes!
I remember the days when the best tracker was a pedometer with the little interior counter that counted your steps and just gave a number at the end of the day. No longer the case as technology has strode forward it has given us bountiful data that most don't even know how to use to get results, well today we diver in!
Are fitness trackers worth it? Yes, hands down they help keep almost everyone motivated and moving helping keep activity levels going. There are options available to manage any type of sport or activity allowing for an increased understanding of how much effort and activity each generates, sleep length and quality, and much more.
Why would you want to measure all those numbers and details, well to learn more about yourself and get better data. The science involved in measuring is lengthy and always up for debate as to overall use but I can tell you first hand they only work if you buy in fully and use the data to change your behaviors!
How Can a Fitness Tracker Help You?
Most the time people choose to add a fitness or activity tracker for a specific need, like work gives discounts for steps over the year to show overall health. Or you may have just decided you like those "biohackers" and they say more data is always more helpful, I would tend to agree.
There are a great many ways a tracker may help you and there are some which will track more data than others. What you need to understand in your choice here is what data do you need and what devices can provide that detail for you.
Lets take a look at the most common items which can be tracked on a fitness tracker or activity tracker, this will help you figure out what data you are the most interested in gathering and using to get your results.
Tracking Your Steps
This is the main purpose of pretty much every fitness tracker available on the market today, helping you try to keep track of your overall movement and trying to help you commit towards increasing your motion.
The start of the fitness and activity trackers is what yielded this infatuation with 10,000 steps each day. While there may be logic behind it to longevity there isn't much useful details behind it as to overall health and strength.
Tracking Your Weight
We have reached a weird place in the world today with numerous "fat activists" claiming that being overweight isn't inherently unhealthy. The truth is the more you weigh the more other things creep up and impact you as it is a sever co-morbidity.
Using your tracker as a reason to manage watching your weight and whether it is on the right trajectory is a very important piece for your health. If you should see it climbing consistently you need to enact proper steps to stop the caloric growth.
I love to have the tracking in my fitness app due to the fact it can show me longer stretches and the trend overall, I very little care about day to day, I very much am concerned about week over week change.
Tracking Food Intake
Now food tracking isn't my favorite thing to do personally as I eat a lot of non-packaged foods where nutrition info is less perfect but the food is more perfect.
For those who love to track and eat foods with packages it is a very helpful thing to get a hold of, most of your weight issues come from the choice to overeat, whether you conscientiously know that you made the choice or not.
Understanding what you put in your mouth can help you to greatly understand why you are where you are on your personal journey. Whether your goal is to gain muscle and weight or to lose body fat and overall fat mass this information is real useful and necessary to track.
Monitoring Your Sleep
This is one thing I find uniquely valuable as I always feel like I sleep poorly but until I had my tracker I really had no proof of this occurring other than being tired.
When I got my first activity tracker I was happy that it would "monitor" my sleep, now I will say it was very rudimentary and not all that impressive by today's standards, that is why I upgraded to the Oura Smart Ring based on other reviews online and the focus on sleep.
Having this in depth tracking for my sleep has really helped me to start really figuring out what causes my sleep issues and I'm finally starting to get a much better quality of sleep and recovering from workouts better too.
Monitor Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
In the newer and more high end devices, like an Apple Watch or similar devices you have the tracking which can help to alert you to much more problems as there has been stories of catching a heart attack starting allowing the person to get care.
These alerts will be helpful when you are working out and trying to maintain a specific heart rate or if you have blood pressure issues in the first place as they can actually help you manage your issues, these additional features are super cool but are a item by item benefit.
Whenever you are looking to make a purchase you always want to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks to purchasing the tracker. Whether this be a cost in making a purchase, to the ways it can be a benefit to you in your health or overall fitness.
Benefits to a Fitness Tracker
The benefits are numerous and have been discussed in different manners above already with the tracking abilities in general. In addition they have a few more things which can help you continue moving without quitting.
Build Confidence - Using them to continually get results and move in the right direction can help you to build confidence that you can achieve the results you are looking for.
Drawbacks to a Fitness Tracker
Anxiety - Many people report an increase in their stress and anxiety levels when they track their details as they worry about not getting in the steps they expect or get less sleep or the numbers aren't green.
Do Fitness Trackers Improve Health?
While many people choose to purchase fitness trackers to help their health goals the actual information doesn't always bear out that you will gain measurable value from the purchase.
To those who are dedicated and want to vigorously check and update the information from their foods and assemble the information to make actionable steps to move towards their goals.
For those who assume having the fitness tracker will somehow just "grant" them the ability to get more fit and to lose body fat, well that won't happen and they will frequently complain that they are useless.
Do You Really Need Fitness Tracker?
The answer to this is no, but the reason to get one is that people typically will track more consistently than when they look to use a notepad alone, if you are someone who is buried in your phone naturally this is probably the mode for you.
On the other hand, my wife, she is a booker and loves journals and to write down things on the schedule laid out in the notebooks she has, I am honestly amazed how that can achieve any useful result!
If you choose not to run a fitness tracker then you should find a quality nutrition app at a minimum for your health tracking as I find nutrition to be the most useful data to track and gain results from. There are cool apps like CronoMeter that make this process super simple and very efficient.
Are Fitness Trackers Safe to Wear?
For almost all people there are no health concerns with wearing a fitness tracker constantly as it will provide much better data when you use it consistently.
For a certain set of the population through the most common issue experienced is a rash in the area where the contacts are to the skin to measure your vitals. For these people you must take more care to clean both the tracker and your body frequently especially after exercise.
The reason for the focus on after exercise is the salt that is excreted from your pores turns into a mixture which on the skin can make the irritation get worse, so you would want to clean your skin quickly after exercise sessions.
Do Fitness Trackers Use Data?
This will depend on what they are using for movement tracking, for the vast majority of trackers this will be an accelerometer which is in the device itself which will need no data from a cell plan.
After this if you have a device that uses GPS to help track your distance this possibly could be within the device itself, as in the Garmin Forerunner, or similar fitness tracking watch. The other method is using the tethered connection and using the GPS (and data) used by your cell phone.
What Fitness Tracker Should I Get?
Now the fun part of figuring out which fitness tracker is most useful or interesting for your needs, whether this is for overall health tracking, sleep tracking, workouts, or another purpose.
There are options which are the more common, like a smartwatch, to the lesser-known smart rings which are super small and amazing bits of technology. There are varieties for every size and need, you just need to know you can find them instead of settling on something instead.
These started being built and used a little less than 5 years ago in force with the Pebble, then the big players started to get involved launching the Apple Watch and the Samsung watches.
These have gone on to be some of the most popular fitness and activity trackers as they serve multiple purposes from showing you texts, phone calls, and playing music.
The only thing that holds them back is that they tend to be also the most expensive for anyone to purchase due to the electronics and size the cost for a watch will typically start higher than $250 where a FitBit could be $100 or less when on sale.
Apple Smart Watch
There are basically two types of people in the phone world, those that use Apple and those that are tied to Android. Apple devices are typically built to interact with each other in the most painless way possible making ease the driving point.
Apple watch is not different as it took my wife about 10 seconds to link her Apple Watch to her iPhone X and she considers herself technologically limited in skills.
I have tried other phones but always come back to Apple due to the way they make it simple and easy to add to the phone, things like fighting to pair a device just don't occur on Apple devices in the same way other devices have.
Samsung has really taken the lead from the Android side for making watches which can perform just as many functions as Apple does. Samsung has take a more standard approach to the watch featuring round faces which are aesthetically appealing.
Just like with Apple the Samsung watches are just amazingly jammed with technology aimed at the person on the go, helping to track all sorts of movement information and provide it in useful detail to help you garner results.
The Garmin line of watches is more aligned to outdoor use and a lot towards running and getting higher quality data for people out and on the go.
The watches from Garmin have some of the better overall GPS tracking available and their forerunner series is one of my favorites after seeing them in use, though I don't have one currently they have been on my shopping list.
There are two main options in the rings tracking options, these are my preferred method as I am not a fan of having a bracelet or watch on my wrist, and necklaces just aren't for me either!
Motiv Smart Ring
This is the first ring that I purchased as I was looking to see what the noise was all about, and I can say I was flat out amazed by the technology and how well it held up to my abuse.
The ability to have a ring that could sit on my finger and help me track my data was perfect as I am not a fan of things on my wrist which is why watches and similar trackers I have a bad relationship with.
The only downside to the Motiv Smart Ring is the relative lack of tracking data from my sleep which is what I found I really need, instead, it is more purely fitness and activity driven.
Oura Smart Ring
The best of the smart rings, in my opinion, is the Oura, they use an infrared sensor which picks up vitals better than the competition and provides you data specifically around sleep to help you know a "readiness" score, or how energetic you will tend to be in a given day.
They are quite crazy in technology and you can read my review over here on my Oura Smart Ring review post to understand more around this particular ring.
Here is where the majority of fitness and activity trackers exist, some have a clock on them and may technically be a "watch" but that isn't their intended purpose which is why I classify them as bracelets instead.
For the longest time the only player in this space was a few failed companies which were on shows like "The Biggest Loser" but then FitBit came onto the scene and made good hardwre at good costs.
Since that point people keep trying to dethrone FitBit but the FitBit continues to be by and large the absolute best bracelet for health tracking so I listed a few below just to help you get an idea on the options available.
The Inspire is able to store heart rate data at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals all other times allowing for easy and efficient tracking while maintaining battery life.
The Fitbit Inspire has a good battery length that lasts up to 5 days for daily progress without constantly taking it off to charge. It also has the ability to charge from zero to 100 in less than two hours to get you off the couch fast.
The Fitbit Charge, now into generation 4, has all the major bells and whistles you would want in a high-quality tracker. It also has the ability to count swimming laps and utilizes a 24/7 heart rate monitoring to more accurately track your calorie burn, resting heart rate & heart rate zones during workouts.
The Fitbit Charge 4 also has a good battery length that lasts up to 5 days for daily progress without constantly taking it off to charge. It also has the ability to charge from zero to 100 in less than two hours to get you off the couch fast.
Do Trackers Count Steps if Your Arms Aren't Moving?
For almost all trackers this is a yes, since they mostly use accelerometers to measure steps the lack of arm movement will negate your step counts, this frequently happens to me with shopping carts as my hands are isolated on the handle to push it.
I believe the only solid option are the on the belt trackers which are obviously split away from your hands allowing for tracking to occur at any times without issue. There is a cool belt clip add on attachment for the Inspire which allows clipping onto clothing instead of on a bracelet.
How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers?
For most trackers steps will depend highly on how you move your arms and hands, sometimes my wife will do laundry and leave the laundry room having done 1000s of "steps" because the arm motions are so varied and constant.
If you control for most variables they are pretty close though each will depend highly on the information you put in as to your height, for example, gives it your distance travelled per step and so if the height is off from your actual height you can see a discrepancy in distance travelled.
For myself, I have been pretty spot on between when I carry my phone and use the Apple Steps compared to the steps on my Motiv and my Charge 2. So I know they must be pretty accurate overall, though if you are a runner maybe this could change depending on your stride and how you run.
Final Thoughts on Are Fitness Trackers Worth It
I love being able to see my data and use it to be helpful in tracking my existing fitness, nutrition, and sleep along with using the data to build better habits.
I would love to say everyone should use one to keep track of their personal health but for some they can find it overly addicting and get many negative impacts to trying to "hit a number" instead of using it to measure progress.
You will have to figure out which you are and from there you can choose which tracker is the correct one for you and what is the right one to help you to reach your goals instead.
I grew up in a very non-active family where most our days were spent inside an away from sports. I did soccer and baseball as a kid but that time quickly ended and I grew away from activities. To regain my health and set myself up for the long run I have chose to involve myself in the three tenets of health and longevity, I hope you join me to live as long and as well as possible.