Do Fitness Trackers Work? Pros and Cons of Wearables
Technology makes the world go around. We have our phones, watches, and other types of gadgets and gizmos we carry around with us. These thingamajigs allow us to collect huge piles of data about any topic, including ourselves, that we want. One of the most popular doohickies is the fitness tracker.
With all the data coming at us, it's easy to become overwhelmed if we don't have a way to keep it organized and accessible. That's where a fitness tracker can come in handy.
Who Says You Need to Track Your Fitness Efforts?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults need to get 150 to 300 minutes of activity like brisk walking or vigorous dancing each week. You can always keep a running tally of workout minutes on a sheet of paper stuck to the refrigerator door, or you can put technology to work with a fitness tracker on your wrist.
Pros and Cons of Fitness Trackers
Wearable fitness trackers aren't going to exercise for you but they can play a role as a facilitator in motivating and accelerating physical activity. We're all more motivated when we know someone is watching. That's what your fitness tracker does 24/7—keeps a watchful eye on your activity all day and all night (as long as you're wearing it).
Like any technological device, fitness trackers have good points and bad points.
- Accountability. A tracker lets you see how much movement and activity you're actually doing in a day. It's a reality check on your wrist. Getting daily reminders of how much, or how little, you're moving can be a good motivator.
- Instant feedback. This is another big motivator. You can see what your heart rate is doing, how many calories you're burning, etc.
- Step counting. Step counting is a recognized method for meeting recommended exercise levels. A fitness tracker not only counts your steps but will also remind you to get up and get moving.
- Sleep tracking. A good night's sleep is invaluable. Fitness trackers provide sleep pattern monitoring usually through a link to your smartphone. Most offer a sleep pattern feature that records the amount of time you sleep, whether your sleep was restless or peaceful, and some even tell you the time frames in which you entered REM sleep.
- Calorie and macronutrient counting. A calorie-counting feature is common to most brands of trackers. This feature requires you to enter information on what you're eating, then the tracker lets you know how many calories you've taken in and in what form. To balance that, it will also tell you how many calories your activity has burned.
- Water consumption. Most trackers also allow you to enter the amount of water you're drinking in a day. This information helps you meet your hydration goals.
- Temperature Sensor. Some trackers feature a temperature sensor. This is different from a traditional thermometer. The temperature sensor tracks your body temperature during a workout. The hotter your body gets, the more intensive your workout. You can use this feature to set a goal for the intensity level of your exercise regimen.
- Monitor your progress. Sometimes we're making progress even when we don't realize it. A fitness tracker will compile a comprehensive history that shows your daily activity. It will give you an average on the number of calories you're burning and show you the data that documents how far you've come from where you started. This is probably the biggest motivator of all.
- Unhealthy obsession. One person's motivation is another person's discouragement. Fitness tracker wearers can become fixated on the data and feel pressured by the numbers their tracker is providing every day. The thing to remember is that the tracker doesn't determine your fitness or health level. It instead gives you a tangible method for observing and managing your efforts.
- The tech is king. Trackers make it easy to rely on technology to tell us how we're doing rather than listening to what our body is telling us. It's easy to elevate the data from the tracker to a level of importance over how you're feeling. But how you feel should be your number one indicator of your health status.
- Inaccurate step counting. If you're pushing a stroller or shopping cart, most fitness trackers don't properly count those steps. Also, many don't start counting until you've walked for a bit and may consider other movements to be walking, thus throwing off your step count and providing inaccurate information.
- Battery time may be inadequate. Some chargers have a low time limit on the battery and will definitely need to be charged before beginning a workout. A few trackers have sufficiently long battery times but be sure to check this point when considering which tracker is best for you.
- Calorie count is off. Just like how the step counter may be inaccurate, the calorie counter may also not accurately track your calorie intake. Granted, since you have to input the information on what you've eaten, human error is a possibility. But that aside, there are still reports of inaccurate calorie counting.
- Cost. Some fitness trackers can be pretty pricey.
Which Fitness Tracker Is Best?
The simple answer to this question is the best fitness tracker for you is the one that meets your needs. Before actually shopping for a tracker, decide what features you want in the device you choose. Here are a few of the top-rated fitness trackers on the market today:
Apple Watch Series 6
- Measures blood oxygen saturation
- Sleep tracking
- Handwashing countdown timer
- Fast new processor
Garmin Vivoactive 4
- Respiration tracking with blood oxygen saturation readings
- On-screen workout animations
- Pilates support
- Music storage
- Supports Bluetooth headphones
Polar Grit X
- Tracks sleep
- Tracks hill ascent and descent
- Offers training advice
- Long battery life
- Good outdoor screen visibility
- Tracks sleep
- Informative widgets
- Offers companion app to help you interpret data
Fitbit Charge 4
- Built-in GPS
- Offers more sleep tools than its competition
- Great companion app
- Supports Spotify
There you have it. Select the fitness tracker that best meets your needs or, maybe, you've decided that a fitness tracker isn't for you. Either way, be sure to get moving!