With the recent release of the Fitbit HR and Apple Watch, the activity tracker trend shows no signs of wavering. For those of us in Technology 101, activity trackers may seem overwhelming. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:
Fitness Technology 101
What are Activity Trackers? Simply stated, activity trackers are devices worn on the body that measure and track most movements. These trackers can tell how far you ran, estimate your daily calorie burn, and even track your sleeping patterns by measuring movement and heart rate. (It should be noted that I highly recommend investing in an activity tracker that measures heart rate, as this provides a much more accurate estimate of daily energy output).
How much do they cost? Activity trackers typically range from $100 to $300. There are some very basic models that start at around $35, but the features are limited.
Are they accurate? Activity trackers are becoming more accurate as technology advances. Activity trackers utilize accelerometers to identify movements. Accelerometers (which track up and down, side-to-side, and front-to-back movements) can detect acceleration, but may have trouble picking up certain movements, such as cycling. This is why it is important to have an activity tracker with a heart rate monitor, as it will pick up an increase in heart rate during “untrackable” movements. Check out this excellent article, “What Your Activity Tracker Sees and Doesn’t See” (courtesy of The New York Times) for more information on this topic. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/projects/2014/03/accelerometers.html?ref=personaltech
8 Things to Consider Before Purchasing an Activity Tracker
Is it Comfortable? Activity trackers come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some models are even clipped onto the shoe. Ask yourself if the tracker will interfere with your normal activities, such as typing or answering the phone.
Is it Cute? You’re going to be wearing this tracker every day. Make sure you find it visually appealing.
Is it Easy to Use? Using an activity tracker should be fairly intuitive. Talk to your friends and read reviews to see which trackers other users enjoy.
How often do I need to charge it? Some trackers require daily charging (Mio Alpha 2), while others can last up to three weeks (Garmin Vivoactive).
Do I need a screen? Some trackers need to be plugged into a computer to obtain readings, while others have display screens to provide information on-the-go.
Is it compatible with my favorite apps? If you’re looking to utilize a certain app, such as MyFitnessPal, make sure you choose a compatible activity tracker. Some trackers also connect to bathroom scales, such as the Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale. Lastly, make sure that your tracker is compatible with your computer’s operating system.
Do I need a sport-specific model? Athletes have different requirements. For example, a swimmer will require a waterproof model (such as the TomTom Multi-sport), while cyclists will benefit from the Fitbit Surge and Garmin Vivoactive, which possess the ability to track cycling activity.
Does it possess the features I need? Features such as heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking vary between models. Make sure the tracker you choose possesses the features you require.