Wearables Finder: Track your health and fitness with technology

From smartwatches to fitness trackers and heart rate monitors to smart glasses,
the future of technology is wearable.

What is a wearable?

Thanks to science, the computer chips that used to take up rooms in warehouses are now so tiny they have opened up a wide range of new opportunities, including the creation of wearable technology.

As the name suggests, a wearable is a piece of technology that is small enough to be worn on the body. The vast majority of wearables come in the form of smartwatches or fitness trackers, devices that are designed to monitor your activity to give you an indication of your general level of health.

These devices use an array of sensors that keep tabs on a number of different metrics, from the number of steps taken to skin temperature and heart rate, and use it to keep track of your individual fitness level over time. They typically use Bluetooth technology to connect to your smartphone, with dedicated apps offering an easy way to access key insights into your day’s activities.

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What are the different types of wearables?

  • Fitness trackers. These are all about measuring how much you move in a day: steps, distance, calories burnt. Today’s models automatically track your activities and will monitor your sleep as well.
  • Smart clothing. Working in a similar way to activity trackers, these are pieces of clothing (usually fitness-related) that have the technology built in. With sensors closer to your skin, they can pick up the more subtle cues of your movement, heart rate and breathing patterns than activity trackers. These can include anything from motion-detecting pants to heat-sensing bras.
  • Smartwatches. Smartwatches often include many of the same functionalities as fitness trackers, with extra connectivity functions thrown in. These can be as diverse as checking email, receiving phone calls or even playing games from your wrist.
  • Smart glasses. These are wearable computers for your eyes. While Google Glass didn’t succeed as a consumer product, the growing interest in augmented reality and potential business applications means we shouldn’t rule out smart glasses technology just yet.
  • Headphones. The new trend towards truly wireless, individual earbuds that can interact with your phone’s digital assistant, or keep tabs of your heart rate, means headphones also fall under the wearables umbrella.
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What are the key features of wearables?

For the most part, wearables are worn on the wrist and are designed to keep track of your body’s activity 24/7. By collecting this data over time, you can get greater insight into your overall health and make changes as appropriate to improve your overall fitness level.

At the very least, expect your wearable to offer accelerometers and motion sensors to track the number of steps you take. These same sensors can also be used to track how long you sleep.

Additionally, many of today’s wearables offer optical heart rate monitors which can be used to monitor how hard you exert yourself during workouts and your general heart health, as well as give an indication of REM sleep.

Almost all of today’s wearables offer Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone for reading and accessing your fitness data, while smartwatches use this connectivity to deliver notifications, receive phone calls and access digital assistants.

Waterproof designs, interchangeable bands and additional sensors are becoming increasingly common across a range of manufacturers, allowing users to customise their device and track even more information in almost any environmental situation.

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What are the tracking metrics of wearables?

While the individual functionality of a wearable depends on the model and design, as a general rule, wearables can track:

  • Speed and/or pace
  • Steps taken per day
  • Distance travelled
  • GPS/location
  • Heart rate
  • Laps swum
  • Calories burnt
  • Time slept
  • REM sleep
  • Stress
  • Blood pressure
  • Sports/activities undertaken

Most of your wearables will also be able to tell you the time. Because after all, what’s the point of a smartwatch if it can’t even tell you when you’re running late?

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What sports or activities do wearables support?

Wearables are designed to be used for a range of sports: running, cycling, swimming, golf, skiing, snowboarding and even diving. Some devices can automatically detect when you go for a particular type of sport and give you an indication of your performance.

Even if your activity isn’t automatically recognised, you can generally begin tracking an activity manually, and then categorise it after you finish. The best trackers will even let you differentiate between gym workouts and outdoor exercise.

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