Now that wearable fitness trackers have been around for more than a decade, research has shown that the greatest benefits that trackers offer include allowing you to learn more about your daily habits and to monitor your movements throughout the day. Some can also shed light on your sleep patterns if worn overnight, which can reveal a lot about your overall health.
Whether you want to use a fitness tracker to count your daily steps, record runs or walks, or keep track of other workouts like swimming, cycling, or weight lifting sessions, there's a model out there for you.
Let's look below at the main functions of fitness trackers and the health perks associated with wearing them consistently, plus tips for purchasing one that will help move you closer to your fitness goals.
Benefits of Using A Fitness Tracker
Can Help Increase Daily Movement
Studies have found that fitness band wearers usually experience a boost in motivation to exercise and move more often.
For example, one 2019 meta analysis found that there was a significant increase in daily step count, moderate and vigorous physical activity sessions, and energy expenditure, as well as a decrease in sedentary behavior when adults started wearing fitness bands.
While not every tracker is going to be extremely accurate when it comes to counting your steps, the goal should be to first find your baseline and then gradually improve upon it by adding several thousand daily steps (or more) over time.
10,000 steps per day have long been considered the gold standard to aim for physical activity, however, a bit less than this (around 8K steps) is still a good indicator of health. A higher number of daily steps, such as 12k, may be an even better goal for adolescents and young, healthy adults. Unfortunately, at least 25% of adults and more than 80% of adolescents do not achieve these recommended activity targets.
The thing to keep in mind here is that all movement is a good thing; just the act of standing and moving around throughout the day can have a big effect on your metabolism, so the importance of reducing sitting shouldn't be overlooked.
To help you avoid being sedentary too often, try wearing a tracker that will prompt you to get up and move. Some encourage you to take at least 250 steps per hour or to stand for at least 10 minutes, while others boost motivation via things like challenges and badges.
May Improve Sleep Habits
In addition to measuring movement and workouts, certain fitness trackers go above and beyond to help you gain a broader picture of your health, including the quantity and quality of your sleep.
Sleep is now known to be highly tied to metabolic health; those who are chronically sleep-deprived are at higher risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a number of other conditions.
Aside from recording your sleep, some trackers can analyze vital signs like your heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate. These can be useful for women who want to track their menstrual cycles, people with heart conditions, and for cluing people in on potential times when they may be getting sick.
Can Motivate You To Change Your Diet
There are many advantages to tracking your food intake, such as keeping a hand-written food journal or logging your meals into your fitness tracker's accompanying smartphone app.
When you take the time to record what you're eating each day you're less likely to eat mindlessly and more inclined to make healthier choices since you're keeping yourself accountable. For example, studies show that people who log their food intake often control their portion sizes better and engage in less emotional eating.
In addition to helping you manage your calorie intake, logging your dietary patterns can also be beneficial for keeping track of things like hydration and protein intake which are important for exercise performance and recovery.
Can Positively Impact Your Mental Health
It's well known that people who are more active have enhanced protection against depression, cognitive decline, and a number of other mental health issues. Exercise can also help people cope with chronic pain and insomnia, due to how it releases natural "feel good" chemicals including endorphins.
How To Choose The Right Tracker For Your Needs
With all the options now available, which is the right fitness tracker to buy if you're looking to purchase a new and reliable one?
When the staff at the New York Times tested 28 fitness trackers to assess their accuracy, ease of use, and comfort they concluded that the Fitbit Charge 4 was the best option for most people who want to use a fitness tracker to help improve their health. The Charge 4 was found to be "among the most accurate for measuring steps and heart rate."
Here are some helpful features to look for when purchasing a fitness tracker:
First Consider Your Goals
Ask yourself which types of workouts you plan to do most often. If you're mostly a walker or jogger, then a basic band with a pedometer is a good fit, however, if you switch up your workouts often, consider buying a band with multiple exercise modes (running, walking, biking, swimming, etc.)
If you plan to use your tracker when doing "niche exercises" such as skiing, snowboarding, golf, stand-up paddleboarding, then make sure to do your research beforehand, since not every tracker will work well during these sports.
Depending on your favorite activities, you might also want to look for a brand that is water-resistant and that has continuous GPS mode (such as for swimming and long runs).
Then Figure Out How Tech-Savvy You Are
Many trackers now sync to a companion app on your phone which is where you'll view your data and patterns. If you're not very comfortable using these apps, look for a band that displays your data (such as steps) right on the band's screen rather than an app.
If you want to use your tracker to measure multiple vital signs (like your average heart rate, hours slept, breathing rate, and steps taken) it's best to spend a bit more money to purchase a high-quality band with multiple measurement systems.
Buying a brand with good battery life is also important if you want to track both sleep patterns and daytime activity.
Some fitness trackers, such as the Apple Watch (aka a "smartwatch"), also offer functions for things unrelated to your health, such as text messages, emails, and calls. These bands are significantly more expensive but may motivate you to wear the band more consistently if they serve many functions.