It’s All in the Wrist: 5 Must-Have Features For Your Next Fitness Tracker
Photo: PeopleImages/Getty Images
Wireless bracelets that monitor your fitness activities are going mainstream.
As you’re likely aware, these wrist-mounted sensors count your daily steps, calculate distance traveled and track estimated calories burned — and then sends this information wirelessly, via Bluetooth, to a nearby smartphone, tablet or computer.
Consider them the big brother to the pedometers of yesteryear.
Some activity trackers let you glance at your progress on the product’s small screen, such as the Garmin vivofit 4 Fitness Tracker ($99), while others like the Fitbit Flex 2 Fitness Tracker ($79) lack a display and therefore must be used with the free companion app or website.
Of course, there’s also smartwatches that can do everything an activity tracker can do and more — but they typically cost more, too, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch (from $229) and Apple Watch (from $369).
But you already know all this, you say?
These trendy products can do more than you think.
Given many Zoomers will be taking advantage of the warmer weather to get fit, the following is a look at a number of lesser-known features of the latest activity trackers.
1. Built-in heart-rate monitor
Most of the newer activity trackers have an optical sensor on its underside that touches your skin and detects your resting and active heart rate, measured in beats per minute. This could be helpful to compare the two BPM readings. Some of the apps provide a more detailed report on your heart rate info.
Apple goes one step further to provide ECG (electrocardiogram) info with its Apple Watch Series 4 (from $519) — ideal for detecting and reporting a dangerously high or low heart rate, or irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmias).
What’s more, Apple Watch now offers fall detection and an Emergency SOS feature, which can call 911 and notify your emergency contacts if it detects a sudden drop.
But let’s not get too off-topic.
2. Set goals, be rewarded for progress
Utilizing the companion app or website, many of today’s activity trackers let you set personal goals, such as walking 10,000 steps per day or perhaps losing weight over a period of time (say, 5 pounds in 4 weeks).
With the Fitbit Versa Smartwatch ($249), for example, you can log into your dashboard on the app or Fitbit.com and set goals for steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled or active minutes. You can earn virtual trophies, badges, and other accolades for reaching your goals.
Speaking of an extra incentive, a couple of activity trackers, such as the Striiv-branded wearables (from $53), let you earn virtual gold to spend in a fantasy game. Great idea.
Some apps, like Fitbit, offer specific challenges, joining groups, and more.
Speaking of which…
3. They’re social – if you want them to be
Many of these fitness bands come with a social media element — an opt-in feature that lets you share your fitness progress with people on Facebook and Twitter, for example. Yes, you can have your milestones blasted out as a status update or tweet without you having to manually type in the info.
Of course, weight loss and fitness goals are a very private matter to some, so be sure not to sign in with your social media details on the activity tracker’s app or website if you want to be the only one with access to the info.
Some, however, might find it motivating to share one’s progress with select friends — so the option is there if you want it.
4. Caloric intake, too
Finally, a few of the leading activity meters can help you manage what you eat too, usually via the companion app or website.
The Fitbit products, for example, work with a few third-party apps, which can leverage the data collected by the activity tracker (fitbit.com/apps). Examples of supported apps include MyFitnessPal and Lose It! Instead of manually typing in your daily activities (with estimated calories burned), you can sync your Fitbit to these apps to automatically import your exercise information. You will still need to manually type in what you’re eating during and in between meals, however.
5. They track your sleep, too
While most people are aware of what activity trackers measure — walking, jogging and running, and in some cases, other exercises like cycling and swimming — most of them can monitor your sleep, too.
By wearing these wristbands while sleeping, the sensors can detect if you woke up during the night, when and for how long. The information can be seen in chart and graph form, on an app or website, which can be shared with a physician for analysis.
Many can also vibrate to wake up the wearer like an alarm clock, without disturbing their partner.