Fitness Trackers — Do We Need It?

A woman checking time after working out

A fitness tracker is hot, but is it worth spending money? It depends on your need.

It is very important to record your workouts; without keeping track how will you know your progress? It motivates you to see the progress (or lack of progress).

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned a smartphone app for fitness tracking. Most of them are free and easy to use. Before smartphones, anyone who was serious about their workout had a notebook and recorded their workout, diet, body weight, BMI, heart rate, and even amount of sleep. Even now, many workout enthusiasts use a notebook, since smartphone apps are not flexible enough. Now, something new is on market: smart fitness trackers.

Fitness trackers look great and fashionable, but aren’t they just electronic versions of pedometers (which are very cheap)?

Well, not quite; they do far more than just counting your steps. The most important function is reporting. It automatically reports to your smartphone and/or computer how much physical activitiy you did for the day. Some of them monitor your heart rate, other monitor your sleep amount and efficiency. You can do most of these things with a pedometer and free smart phone app, but this is far easier than doing it by hand.

Another important factor is that a pedometer does not have a community of users. You can be a part of a user group or make a group with your friends and compare progress. This is really important. As I mentioned before, if you are in a group, you push yourself harder and can keep motivating yourself. This benefit is also available in many smartphone apps, but they are not quite as active as these commercial versions.

So should you spend $100+ for the tracker? If you are:

  1. not a gym member and workout alone most of the time
  2. interested in increasing your overall physical activity level without relying on a specific workout plan
  3. really into social media

you will benefit from an electronic fitness tracker. If you are a gym member or a member of a workout group such as a running club, you don’t need it and smartphone free apps may be good enough, though probably you can get some other benefits from the fitness tracker (such as sleep tracking). Note that some of the smartphone apps actually use GPS and tell you how far you run and how fast you run. These are great apps if you are a runner.

By the way, the second point above is very important. Most people don’t move enough. Sitting all day will kill you (see the article about it). So if you use the tracker to keep motivating you to move around (say, taking a stairs instead of taking an elevator), it will make a huge impact on your health in a long run.

In any case, these trackers keep motivating you and that is the most important factor.
Fixya, a question and answer site gives a great review about the currently available wrist band type fitness trackers. In the table below, I just extracted a few points from the site. If you’d like to read more details, you should visit their site.

    Positive Points Negative Points
Fitbit Flex
  • Cheapest
  • Simple
  • Sleep tracker
  • Water proof
  • Replacement for lost product
  • Lack of altimeter
  • Inefficient data
  • Proprietary charger
  • Simple LED display
Nike+FuelBand

  • best online community
  • good design
  • Web/mobile data presentation is simple and easy
  • Inefficient data
  • No manual data entry
  • No sleep features
  • Water-resistant, not waterproof
Jowbone UP
  • No question asked refund
  • Inconsistent battery life
  • Requires replacement
  • Syncing issues
  • Proprietary charger
Basis B1
  • More functions to track your body conditions
    (heat reate, skin temp, and perspiration)
  • Heart rate data when exercising
  • Wrist discomfort
  • No food entry system
  • No wake-up alarm
Body Media Fit Link

  • Best comprehensive data presentation
  • Data subscription
  • Water-resistant, not waterproof
  • Hard to sleep with
  • Slightly uncomfortable around arm

My friend, Dr. Philpott( Please visit her site), sent me the following comments about the fitness tracker (with her permission)
“Sitting is the new smoking” Or “the chair is a killer” (from a PBS science show —The Truth About Exercise – Dr Micheal Mosley –, you’ll see the killer chair quote/info.)

Unfortunately, I still spend too much of my time there!

I’m working on getting up and moving more. While that part still needs work, I am doing better at getting more total movement during the day and working out. One thing that is helping is my new FitBit.

I don’t know if you have heard of these. It’s one of the new generations of digital pedometers, only more comprehensive. [I had been considering either a Nike Fuel or Jawbone UP (which does not have great reviews after all), but did not want something too bulky on my wrist when working at the computer]. I have the FitBit One – a clip on that has a light wrist cuff to wear in bed to monitor sleep. It syncs to both your computer and smart phone, as well as having a display that shows steps, miles, calories burned, floors climbed and the time (and a little flower that grows longer as you do more).

On the smart phone app and computer dashboard you can see more details as well as adding in a variety of other things – ounces of water you are drinking, weight, specific activities and more. It shows a variety of graphs, etc. More can be added on desktop than smart phone (you don’t actually need a smart phone) – I’ve added my measurements. Then you can also connect online with your friends that have a FitBit (there are a variety of different models). Then you can use their activity levels to help you stay motivated, if you like (you set in your privacy settings what information you want your friends to be able to see).
One of my sisters and her family have Nike Fuel bands (her husband has lost 15 lbs). Another sister bought a FitBit Flex (the bracelet model) after seeing ours. She misplaced it for a day and said she felt sort of lost without it (she found it but customer support was ready to send her a new one – that is good customer support!)

The FitBit costs about $99, but I feel like if it helps me be healthier it’s worth it (what is more important that our health – esp. as we get older?) And it’s kinda fun!

Source:
The Fixya Report : Fitness Band (http://blog.fixya.com/pr/aug2013/fitness-band-report.html) (Aug 2013)




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