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Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift, or have been toying with the idea of getting one for yourself – now is a great time to invest in a fitness tracker.

The wearable tech accessories – also called activity trackers – have boomed in popularity over the last few years, and they are only getting more intelligent.

Gone are the days where your fitness watch would simply track your steps, now they can log any kind of workout, track your lengths while you’re in the pool, give insights about your sleep health, i don’t think propecia is working and monitor your mood and nutrition.

But with so many products on the market, and so many different functions available, it can be daunting choosing the product that’s right for you and your fitness needs.

‘One of the biggest challenges when choosing a fitness tracker is to make sure you choose one that suits your goals and needs,’ Jonny Kibble, personal trainer and head of exercise & physical activity at Vitality tells Metro.co.uk.

‘This often means striking a balance between the vast range of advanced tracking metrics on offer, versus what you will actually use it for, versus style.’

First of all, you need to unpick some of the myths and misunderstandings about how these devices work.

Common misunderstandings about fitness trackers

The more advanced the technology, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the best fit for you and your goals.

‘For example, if you want to use a fitness tracker to simply measure one metric like your step count, you don’t necessarily need something that is going to track your calorie expenditure or heart rate,’ says Jonny.

‘It is therefore important to consider what you do on a day-to-day basis and choose a tracker that fits with your lifestyle. Alternatively, think about what a specific tracker would motivate you to do if you had access to more data.’

One of the best ways to get fitter is to simply move more. Jonny says you shouldn’t be too worried about getting a device that tracks every single type of activity – from swimming to running to yoga and Pilates.

‘Don’t underestimate the power of the step count and good frequency of movement to stay healthy over the long term,’ he says. 

‘It’s also worth being mindful of the benefits of time away from screens and gadgets and the relaxation this may bring to your overall health and wellbeing.’ 

What features do fitness trackers have?

Many of the devices offer the same basic features – some have unique functionality.

So, these are some of the more useful features that you may want to look out for when picking your device:

Heart rate monitor
Monitoring your heart rate can help you get a better idea of how many calories you’re burning in a day, especially during a workout, and can show you when you’re in your target heart rate zone so you can maintain intensity.

Exercise recognition
This will then automatically log your workout without you having to manually enter it within whatever app your device is using.

Smartphone integration
This is where you basically sync your phone up to your device so you can do things like answer emails and messages. The Apple Watch is probably the most integrated device, providing a range of functions and apps.

GPS
With GPS some devices can map your routes and provide stats like your distance travelled and pace. It’s a great feature for runners and cyclists.

Swimming support
There are a few fully waterproof devices out there. These devices may be able to track a number of additional metrics, such as how many laps or lengths you complete.

Movement reminders
A movement reminder is just a vibration or notification from your device, to remind you to move when you’ve been still for too long. Perfect for those of us with static jobs and long hours.

How to use a fitness tracker to achieve your goals

Investing in wearable fitness tech is a strong statement of intent, but how do you keep that momentum going once the novelty has worn off?

Jonny suggests sticking to the basics.

‘Tracking your step count can be great to help improve general wellness and fitness as well as weight loss,’ he says. ‘Aiming for around 10,000 steps a day will ensure you’re staying active and healthy day to day. It will also increase the amount of calories you expend if this is a goal, without having to increase the amount of specific exercise you do.

‘Using the VO2 max value can help you with monitoring your fitness throughout any given programme.

‘If your VO2 max isn’t increasing every couple of weeks, then it may be worth looking at your cardiovascular exercise programme to find out where you can improve things.’

Jonny also says you should be a little bit wary of your device’s calorie function.

‘It can be helpful with aiding weight loss,’ he says. ‘However, it is important to not just view exercise as a way to lose weight. There are so many other benefits to exercise, like improving your overall mental health and boosting mood.

‘Using the stress score can help with recovery. If your stress score is consistently high, you should look to carve out longer periods of recovery or rest.

‘Stress scoring is getting more accurate as devices improve but it shouldn’t be seen as absolute, it’s worth taking them with a pinch of salt.’

How do fitness trackers work?

How to understand the different metrics used on fitness trackers:

Pulse Ox
This measures the amount of oxygen in the blood stream (95-100% constitutes a ‘normal’ reading). This will decrease if you are at a high altitude due to the lack of oxygen or if someone has COPD for example.

Vo2 max
The amount of oxygen your body can consume and utilize per minute (measured in mL/kg/min). This is a gold standard measure of aerobic fitness.

Numbers vary vastly depending on age/fitness/gender but an average woman in her 30-40s would be 31mL/kg/min and for a man this would be around 35mL/kg/min. Fitter individuals would be 45+ and 51+ for women and men respectively.

Heart rate
The number of times your heart beats per minute. The average is around 72bpm but fitter individuals can be much lower due to the heart becoming larger and stronger, therefore, having to contract less frequently at rest.

Heart rate will increase during exercise (up to around 220-age at max) and will be lowest in the early hours of the morning.

Calories
Watches will track the amount of calories you expend per day. They do this by looking at your movement and heart rate each day and then use your weight to calculate an approximate value. This can be useful for weight loss or general tracking.

Devices may show ‘active’ and ‘resting’ calories. Active calories are calculated based on what you’ve expended through movement or exercise and resting calories (your basal metabolic rate) are calculated using your weight, height and age.

An average man will burn 2,500 calories per day and a woman 2,000. But an hour of exercise could burn around 600-1100 calories depending on intensity and the person.

Step count
The amount of steps completed per day. A great value to aim for is 10,000 steps as a foundation to work off.

Stress
The tracking of this differs from device to device but it’s generally measured by heart rate across the day and sometimes heart rate variability. Generally, a higher number means more stress.

Periods of high movement and heart rate can increase your stress score while periods of lower heart rate, less movement, or sleep can help to reduce your stress score.

Jonny Kibble, head of exercise & physical activity at Vitality

How to make sure you’re not ‘cheating’ your metrics

‘With the advancement of technology, devices are now learning how you move and which means they can track with increasing accuracy and consistency,’ says Jonny.

He adds that it is really important to take the time to set up your device properly and ensure you update the software both on the device itself and your phone so everything is up to date.

‘You should also make sure your device fits well and isn’t too loose,’ he says. ‘This is important with wrist based heart rate monitors in particular.’

What if you play sports where you can’t wear one on your wrist?

It can be tough to track your progress and metrics during games or sports that don’t allow jewellery – like netball, for example.

‘Putting them around your ankle and under a sock could be an option if allowed,’ suggests Jonny.

‘There are also mini pedometers that could be placed in a sock or pocket that may be a little safer, or heart rate straps that track and store data without the need for a “device”.’

Other than that, Jonny says the only other thing to do would be to estimate your activity.

‘A good rule of thumb is that 10 minutes walking would equate to around 1,000 steps,’ he says. ‘But calories, heart rate and other metrics can be very variable so not really possible to estimate.’

What’s the best fitness tracker for you?

‘All devices have their perks,’ says Jonny. ‘In terms of brand, it really depends on the individual and what sort of display, look, and straps they generally prefer.’

Here are some of our favourites to consider:

Fitbit Charge 4, Health and Fitness Tracker

Buy it for £89.99

Garmin Forerunner 245 Running Watch

Buy it for £149

Galaxy Watch 4 40mm BT

Buy it for £199

Amazfit Band 5 Smart Band & Fitness Tracker

Buy it for £19.99

Apple Watch Series 7

Buy it for £349

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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