Fitness trackers can help improve your overall health
Experts agree: We all need to sit less and move around more. Studies show that even the most avid exerciser may be negating the benefits of a long, hard workout if he or she spends the rest of the day sitting at a desk. But making sure you're getting more movement into your routine can be challenging. Enter the fitness tracker: a small wearable device that charts your every movement -- and can even remind you to get up and walk around after you've been sitting for too long. Also called activity trackers or body measurement trackers, fitness trackers are part of a new class of wearable technology, or simply wearables, that includes things like smart watches, wearable cameras, and, of course, Google glasses.
Fitness trackers do much more than simple pedometers. Like a pedometer, these small devices do count steps and tally distances, but they also can chart other activities such as bicycling, climbing stairs or swimming. Exercise intensity is part of the tracking process as well, and most fitness trackers even have the ability to keep track of how many calories you've burned and track the quantity and quality of your sleep. Most have alarms as well, not only to remind you to move, but to wake you up with a subtle vibration so you don't disturb your partner.
Users keep the tracker on their body 24 hours a day, worn on the wrist or arm or clipped to clothing. Some fitness trackers measure other biometrics such as heart rate, skin temperature and perspiration to even more accurately measure calories burned and exercise intensity levels. For some people, tracking sleep or heart monitoring is their top priority, and some wearables do that better than others.
A key feature of fitness trackers is that they can upload all of this data to your computer or smart device, where you can use a fitness app to graph your averages and totals, and some apps can do much more. For example, advanced fitness tracker apps offer customized weight-loss plans and help you manage your fitness goals. Many activity trackers now will sync to other popular fitness sites, such as MyFitnessPal.com, SparkPeople.com or MapMyFitness.com, to name just a few. Some connect to social media to share your progress or motivate you even more with friendly competition. Though many smartphones offer apps similar to a fitness tracker, experts say these aren't as accurate as a device dedicated to tracking activity.
When selecting a fitness tracker, you should consider the type of activity you commonly do, what data you wish to track and the tracker's compatibility with your computer or smartphone. Also, because you will wear it all day, every day, comfort and design are important considerations.
Types of fitness trackers
Clip on fitness trackers are the most discreet, and many people love this type because no one can tell that they're wearing an activity monitor. There are most commonly worn clipped to a waistband or sports bra, but many will work even if tossed in a purse or pocket. Most clip on trackers include a wristband to insert the tracker to wear at night to monitor your sleep.
Wristband style fitness trackers are the most common and the most popular. Some are small units, like a clip on fitness tracker, but, instead of fitting in a clip, they slip into a plastic wristband. Owners love these because they can buy optional wristbands and bracelets to change up their look to match their outfit. Keep in mind, however, that while some are available in several colors, there's no way to change the tracker's basic appearance. Some wristband fitness trackers incorporate basic smartwatch features, such as the ability to receive smartphone notifications of incoming texts or emails.
Armband style fitness trackers are becoming less common -- one of our former Best Reviewed models has been discontinued since this report was last published. That's because these are best for measuring dedicated exercise sessions, rather than for all day activity and fitness tracking: they're simply not comfortable enough to wear 24/7.
Although all of these fitness trackers are intended to be worn all the time to provide an overall picture of health, they work great for tracking dedicated exercise sessions as well. Pair a fitness tracker with some of the exercise equipment found in our separate reports on treadmills, elliptical trainers, and exercise bikes, and see how your very active minutes rack up. Better yet, head on over and take a look at the treadmill desks we recommend in our report on standing desks -- they can help you integrate activity into even the most tedious task.
Finding the best fitness trackers
There are plenty of excellent, comparative tests of fitness trackers, with hands-on testing and in-depth discussions of accuracy and features. We analyzed professional tests performed by experts at PCMag.com, ConsumerReports.org, CNET and a TheWirecutter.com. We then matched those results and recommendations to the experiences of users, from retail review sites such as Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, as well as a blog or two. The result of our research is our recommendations for the best fitness trackers; they are all standouts when it comes to performance, ease of use and wearability.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Fitness Trackers: These fitness trackers monitor your activities, steps, calorie expenditure and more. We recommend the best activity tracker for any lifestyle.
Heart/Sleep Monitoring Fitness Trackers: The hot trend in fitness trackers is the ability to monitor important body biometrics like heart rate, and to dig down into your sleep patterns. These trackers give you a detailed overview of your health markers.
Buying Guide: What kind of fitness tracker do you need? Here is your guide to determining which type of activity tracker will best suit your exercise habits and lifestyle.
Our Sources: We used these professional and user review sources to find the fitness trackers. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.