Healthspan November 01, 2017

In an age where wearable technology is the fitness world’s most coveted accessory, we ask how exactly fitness trackers work, and if they really work…

As technology becomes smarter (and smaller!) with every passing update, so too has using it to track your every movement, the route you took and calories consumed.

But with the more advanced gadgets on offer for seasoned athletes – we’re looking at you, triathletes – it can be difficult to know what’s relevant to the everyday user and what’s not. Here’s what to look for in an activity tracker, and how to use it to achieve your fitness goals:

What is ‘wearable tech’?

Wearable technology is the term given to devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers and even smart clothing. They are the modern equivalent of a basic pedometer, though they far exceed the capabilities.

Not only do fitness trackers count steps taken, they distinguish between type of activity – swimming, jogging, walking – and distinguish between your performance throughout, i.e.: standard fat burn, cardio and peak. They can also determine how far you’ve travelled and how many calories you’ve burned in doing so.

Other popular features include:

  • Calorie intake/food logs
  • App partnering
  • Goal setting/reminders
  • Sleep logging (in conjunction with apps)
  • Hydration monitor

Many fitness trackers are designed to be worn on the wrist as watches with an interactive time/date display, and/or can be clipped on to your person.

The techy bit: how does wearable tech work?

In their basic form, fitness trackers measure motion. And do to so, the majority use a 3-axis accelerometer which tracks each direction you move. This data is then converted into steps and activity, and from there into calories burned.

Altimeters – sensors that measure altitude, acceleration, frequency, duration, intensity and patterns of movement – are also added into the mix, allowing good devices to automatically pick up whether you’re simply walking down the street or running a 5k during active time.

When it comes to calories your device’s app needs more than just step count to make a calculation, which is why you’ll often be asked to input your age, height, gender and weight.

As for the algorithms used to determine your specific data, most manufacturers remain tight-lipped.

Which features do I need?

Choosing the right device for you is an important step towards reaching your fitness goal. Here’s just some of the things to consider:

Choose your style: How you’ll wear your fitness tracker is the most important thing to factor in. Most fitness trackers come either in the form of watches, clip-ons or bracelets. Most clip-ons have the functionality to be worn as a watch too, though the same can’t be said for watches or bracelets.

So, if you’re looking for a device to wear 24/7 that can be hidden day-to-day or for an event, bare that in mind.

The app experience: Your fitness tracker will only get you so far without an app, so choosing one that can be partnered with a great user experience rated app is also key. As a minimum, apps should create a basic profile and log height, weight and age to accurately determine calories burned. But: the more detailed the user profile, the better and more accurate the device.

Compatible extras: For total body/fitness/health analysis, choose a device that also offers smart scales as part of its add-on package. Not only do associated smart scales send weight data straight to your app, the best options also measure heart rate, BMI, bone density and muscle mass.

Battery life: Choosing a device with a long battery life is also important, so look for a minimum charge life of a week for devices with display functionality. And remember: while GPS may seem like a ‘must have’, their function reduces battery life down to around 14 hours in the most expensive of devices. Not cool!

Do you really need to measure heart rate? Though it certainly has the ‘cool factor’, when it comes down to it: heart rate monitoring drives up the price of any device, and most people don’t need it.

A key feature for the seasoned athlete, if you’re simply interested in knowing your resting heart rate you don’t need a fitness tracker to do so. Many apps, which use your smartphone’s camera to do so, are more than capable and free to download.

Is it waterproof? Unfortunately, most devices aren’t waterproof or even water resistant. While some designed specifically for swimmers are water compatible, this again is a feature that seems to drive price. A great option all-round option that is completely waterproof however, is new Nutricoach.

Nutricoach, which works in association with the Healthspan app provides an innovative and personalised fitness tracking and nutrition platform by merging personal data with dietary intake to provide wearers with customised supplements to perfectly support your health goals. Also available in conjunction with smart scales to measure weight, muscle mass and BMI, plus a water bottle to monitor fluid intake.Find out more.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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