Fitness tracker buying guide: Compare wearables

Learn how to choose the right fitness tracker to make your workouts easier and more fun.

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Women doing outdoor exercise

Quick facts about fitness trackers

  • Fitness trackers come with a wide range of optional features including heart rate monitoring, GPS and sleep tracking.
  • Typically, the more features you want, the more you’ll have to spend.

How do fitness trackers work?

Fitness trackers are a type of wearable designed to be worn on your wrist all day long. The tracker can detect your activity throughout the day and monitor how many steps you take, how far you travel, and in some cases, your heart rate during physical activity. Wearing a fitness tracker can help you keep track of your activity and set measurable fitness goals – for example, walking 10,000 steps every day.

These trackers use a variety of sensors to detect movement and motion. Some trackers have sensors that detect your pulse and heart rate, while others have GPS trackers that can keep track of the total distance you travel. The more sensors the fitness tracker has, the more accurate it will be at monitoring your activity.

How to compare fitness trackers

When choosing a fitness tracker, consider the following factors:

Heart rate monitor

Many fitness trackers include a heart rate tracker to help you monitor your health and activity. You can use it to track your activity levels throughout the day and to make sure your heart rate is at optimal levels during exercise.

Battery life

Some trackers offer several days’ worth of battery life on a single charge, while others require you to recharge each day. If you want to use the tracker to monitor your sleep, look for one with a battery life of more than 24 hours so that you don’t have to recharge every night while you sleep. Fitness trackers with rechargeable batteries are usually powered by USB chargers, while other trackers use replaceable watch batteries.

Apps

Just about every fitness tracker has an app that allows you to store data about your activity, update settings, set goals and more. However, some trackers are only available with Apple or Android devices, not both. Make sure you check that the tracker is compatible with your phone.

Waterproofing

Some models are water- and sweat-resistant, while others are fully waterproof and can be worn while swimming.

Display

Some trackers include displays so that you can more easily check your activity levels, check the time and change settings.

GPS

GPS tracking can give you more accurate activity tracking, especially when it comes to running and cycling.

Sleep tracking

Most fitness trackers allow you to monitor your sleep. Some models record sleep activity automatically while others need to have the sleep setting manually activated before you go to bed.

Alarm

If you want to use your tracker as an alarm, look for one that offers a silent alarm that vibrates your wrist. That way, you can wake up without waking up anyone next to you. Also, you can set reminders throughout the day that won’t disturb those around you.

Food log and calorie counter

Some fitness tracker apps allow you to manually log the food you eat throughout the day, while others can sync with a food tracking app. Monitoring both your food intake and exercise in the same place can help you more accurately estimate your daily calorie consumption and meet your fitness goals.

Fitness trackers vs smartwatches

Fitness trackers and smartwatches do a lot of the same things. Most of them can tell the time and track your activity. The main difference between the two is what they’re designed to do.

While most smartwatches can be used as fitness trackers, fitness trackers typically offer more health features. Smartwatches may have more features and versatility, but they can also be a lot more expensive. If you only want a device to track your activity, you’d be paying more for features you won’t use.

Do fitness trackers help you lose weight?

Scientists have debated for years about the effectiveness of fitness trackers as weight loss tools, but there’s little scientific evidence indicating either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of modern fitness trackers.

While there have been several studies that indicate wearing a fitness tracker doesn’t increase weight loss, these well-known studies used older fitness tracker models such as clip-on pedometers and upper armband trackers.

Wearing a fitness tracker alone won’t lead to weight loss or better health, but a tracker can be a helpful tool for motivation and keeping track of fitness goals.

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