Should you buy a fitness tracker?

Fitness trackers are exploding in popularity these days. No longer reserved for the fitness elite, fitness trackers are being used by Weekend Warriors, Olympians, and the Everyday Joe alike. The good news about this trend is that they have drastically come down in price and the technology is advancing rapidly. The bad news about this is, just like phones, as soon as you buy one, a new “better” one comes out. So, the questions comes up often about if they are worth buying, and which one to buy if you decide to get one. Fit-bit, Apple, Garmin. These are just a few of the brand names that offer great products, and each brand has many different models of fitness devices. Here are a few tips to help you decide if (and what model) a fitness tracker is a good idea for you.

First off, what are you going to use it for, or why do you want one? For most people, it is some kind of combination of tracking calories burned, number of steps taken, and how long they have been working out. Personally, I think you should have a particular need/reason for wanting one other than to be “cool”, but hey, it’s your life. Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the basic functions.

Calories burned. Probably one of the most important features of a fitness tracker, in my opinion. The ability to know how many calories you burned throughout the day or via exercise can be a great tool to have on your fitness journey. It can help you know how hard you have been working out, help you make better food choices, etc. But here is the thing; they ESTIMATE your calories burned. Unless you are hooked up to a bunch of medical equipment in a lab, you will not be getting the actual number of calories burned. Now, fitness trackers are becoming more and more accurate, but are still best taken with a grain of salt. I mean, if I can shake my arm around and get it to register steps, how accurate can it be? Joking aside, they are great for keeping track of time spent working out and getting a good feel for how hard you worked. There are days when I feel more tired than usual and am not sure why. A quick glance at my fitness tracker app and I can see that my workout for the morning was a bit more intense than usual. There are also times when I feel like a work out kicked my butt, but my tracker says my heart rate never went over 80 BPM…It can be great as a guide, but not word of law. Maybe one day the technology will be to the point of 99% accuracy, but we are not there yet. It’s also worth noting that estimates should be ok. If you are on such a strict plan that 50-100 calories burned or not burned will ruin your diet, you might want to re-evaluate some things in your life…just sayin’!

Steps. Another great thing about fitness trackers is that they automatically track the number of steps you take in a day. Some even track flights of stairs climbed and other cool things automatically. If your goal is to just be reminded to move more and have some form of accountability, then a fitness device might be a good idea for you. If you are like me, then you kind of treat it like a high score board. How many calories can I burn this week?? How many steps can I take today?? Whatever you can do to make it fun! Keep in mind that they are not 100% accurate, and you should be ok, just don’t be one of those people who thinks 10,000 steps a day will make them live forever! Oh, the way people obsess about steps amazes me. Yes, there has been lots of research that shows moving more and sitting less has been linked to longer and healthier lives, but people get obsessed with number of steps/calories burned and lose focus of what is important. Getting those 10,000 steps a day, or burning at least 500 calories a day in exercise is not a magic number for healthiness. Yes,  most people need to get up and move more, and having a little device attached to you that lets you know you haven’t moved in 3 hours (thank you, email) can be a great tool. Just know that being healthy is more than walking an arbitrary number of steps a day.

Besides the “calories burned” and “total steps” functions, fitness trackers can help in other ways to promote a healthy lifestyle. For instance, many of them are great at monitoring sleep time/quality, which is a big factor in your overall health (one that gets the short stick far to often) and well-being. Some of them can even monitor your breathing, and others, your hydration level!  And the final factor is, of course, the cost. Ranging from $50 – $500 for a tracker, it’s hard to know which one to pick! You can honestly get some pretty great deals on refurbished ones online. Another great option is starting with “last years” model if it’s your first tracker so you can see how you like it and it won’t be as expensive. Like I stated earlier, there are many different fitness trackers with different perks, abilities, and cost, so finding out what you need/want will be most important. If you want to know exactly how many miles you hiked/ran/biked, then a GPS is a must. Also, find one which pairs well with your other tech. Have an Iphone? An apple watch will probably work better for you than for someone who has an Android phone. Personally, I like Garmin products, and I find their apps to be easy to use and understand on all platforms.

So, will a fitness tracker take you to the next level? Maybe. It doesn’t hurt to have a better understanding of what you do everyday. If getting one will motivate you to be more active, then absolutely buy one. They are useful tools to have in your arsenal, but I would say that they are NOT required if you want to be healthy/fit. Think about it, look for a good deal/sale on one and try it out.

Thanks for reading, and DFQ!