Should You Wear a Fitness Tracker?

Should You Track Your Fitness in-lineFor a nation of supposedly obese, lazy, and sedentary layabouts, American consumers sure are interested in tracking their daily activity levels. In 2015, they bought 13.4 million dedicated activity trackers, up 50% from the previous year, and spent almost $1.5 billion on the devices. That’s in addition to the hundreds of millions of smartphones in circulation that also track your daily steps, sleep quality and duration, and calorie expenditure. From FitBit to Jawbone to Apple Watch to dozens of others, the wearable fitness-tracking gadget industry is growing quickly. Venture capital has responded, pouring billions into the wearable industry.

Are they worth it?

It depends. According to some data, about a third of users stop using their devices within six months of getting them. Then again, “most people” don’t know the difference between polyunsaturated and saturated fat. “Most people” don’t care enough to watch their carb intake, or pay a little extra for grass-fed beef, or eat a Big Ass Salad every day. These statistics collate yet ignore individual data points. If you decided to pick up a FitBit or a Jawbone or an Apple Watch, the only data point that matters is yours. Most people might stop using their wearable after a couple months. You might keep wearing it.

Are they accurate?

According to research from December of last year, they aren’t very accurate at tracking data beyond step count. Researchers analyzed 22 studies exploring the ability of FitBit and Jawbone (the two most popular trackers) to accurately track, sleep, steps, calories burned, distance, and physical activity. They were both good at counting steps, but missed the boat on almost everything else.

They overestimated sleep duration. Overall, accelerometer-based sleep-tracking wearables compared poorly to established medical devices for tracking sleep, like polysomnography (used in sleep studies) and actigraphs.

They underestimated distance traveled at high speeds and overestimated distance traveled at low speeds.

One study found that the FitBit accelerometer was fairly accurate when assessing physical activity; others found that both the Fitbit’s and the Jawbone’s were not.

Both tracker brands underestimated and overestimated calories burnt, depending on the study.

A 2016 study looked at four different brands—FitBit Charge HR, Apple Watch, Mio Alpha, and Samsung Gear S—of wrist trackers and found that while heart rate tracking was accurate, energy expenditure tracking was not.

Another 2016 study found that while most trackers are accurate with step tracking over flat ground, step tracking on stairs is less accurate, and distance tracking on stairs is overestimated by at least 45%.

That said, these aren’t huge hits against wearables. Raw step count and resting HR are the most important features of today’s fitness trackers, as they allow you to track:

Daily activity. Are you moving frequently at a slow pace? Are you hitting the 10k step mark? Walking is the foundation of good physical, mental, and psychological health. It’s fundamental to our species—we’re walkers.

Heart rate zone. If you’re at all interested in becoming a fat-burning beast, spending a lot of time in the aerobic heart rate zone (180 minus age) will get you there, and a HR monitor can help you figure out what it looks and feels like.

The million dollar question: do they encourage more activity?

Surprisingly, few researchers have even explored this fundamental question: whether fitness trackers increase activity. What exists isn’t very encouraging.

A 2015 study gave overweight middle aged women either a standard pedometer (counts steps and distance) or a wearable fitness tracker. Both groups were coached to take 10,000 steps a day and engage in moderate aerobic activity for 150 minutes a week. After four weeks, the pedometer group saw no improvement. The fitness tracker group was little better, only increasing weekly activity by 38 minutes. No one reached 10,000 steps a day.

Anecdotes of how wearing a tracker changed this person’s fitness and helped them lose a dozen pounds and lose that baby weight abound, and I’m hesitant to discount them. If tracking your activity really does encourage you, then it works. For you. And since this thing we call society consists of millions of subjective realities traipsing about, each crafting a separate narrative, “for you” is the only relevant qualifier.

Okay, all that aside, most of the downsides I’ve discussed derive from limitations of the technology. Wearables are still young. Future tech will improve, and I’m confident that within 5-10 years we’ll have consumer-level devices that accurately track sleep, calorie expenditure, metabolic rate, fat-vs-sugar-burning ratio, and dozens of other biomarkers. It’s only a matter of time.

But there’s another potential downside, one that has little to do with the accuracy of the technology or the technology itself. It’s how we silly humans exalt numbers over feelings, objectivity over subjectivity.

This has its advantages. When we can track it, people who otherwise might not put in the effort suddenly care about getting enough steps each day. Put something down on paper/in an app and it becomes real. You care more about what you can quantify. You pay closer attention to your steps per day, and aim for more each day, when you’re getting real time feedback, your friends are getting notifications when you hit your goals, your wrist is buzzing with excitement over your 10,000th step. When you’re wearing a fitness tracker, getting 10,000 steps doesn’t just make you healthier, it makes you happier. And health-seeking behaviors only become second-nature when we can derive intrinsic value—happiness, in this case—from their pursuit.

This all sounds great, Sisson. What’s the downside?

Once you start quantifying your physical activity, activity you don’t track loses value.

If you forget your wearable, you lose your steps. If your exercise session won’t show up on your daily wrap-up, if, God forbid, your FitBit friends won’t see all the walking you did today, you may be less likely to do it. Especially if you’re only walking to pad your stats.

It’s like the tree falling in the forest. Did you really take that walk to the grocery store if your FitBit wasn’t there to record the steps? Did you actually reach the fat-burning aerobic zone in your long easy run if you forgot to wear the heart rate monitor?

Are you walking so much because you like the small hit of dopamine that floods your brain every time you get another thousand, or do you actually enjoy ambling around? Is your motivation truly intrinsic?

Before the trackers, steps taken were lost to the past. You’d step, and shift your weight, and it was over. Gone. You might recall where you walked and what you saw and whom you were with, but you didn’t have any real notion of how many steps you’d taken. The thought to count them never even entered your mind. You could, but it’d be laborious and frankly ridiculous to count your steps in your head.

You know. You know now. But your FitBit friends don’t. And before long—a week or two, maybe—you’ll have forgotten all about it. If that scares you, there may be a problem.

Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m a Luddite (who just so happens to run a successful online business). But I’m far more interested in fine-tuning my intuition than relying on technology to tell me how healthy I’m being. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them.

If you want to use one, just do it right:

Wear it on the same spot. You can wear it on your lapel, your hip, your wrist, or your ankle as long as you wear it there every time. The more consistent you are, the more accurate the device will be.

Be accurate when entering your personal data. To give you accurate data, the tracker needs to know your real height and weight. If your weight changes, update it.

Calibrate your step length. Some wearables allow you to calibrate your true step length when you start using the device. Doing so will improve the accuracy of distance tracking.

Stop moving when taking your heart rate. Most consumer wrist-wearables are unable to accurately track heart rate when you’re in motion. To get an accurate reading, stop exercising and rest for 5-10 seconds before checking your HR.

Focus on trends, not absolute numbers. If what the device says about last night’s sleep corresponds to how you feel about last night’s sleep, it has value. If it conflicts—if you feel great despite getting poor marks on your tracker—it’s probably inaccurate. But that makes you wonder: if you’re only using the tracker to confirm your subjective impressions, how valuable is the tracker? Just use your intuition.

Remind yourself every morning that you are a privileged rich person who’s probably already rail-thin. The added weight of your guilt will increase your heart rate and calories burned.

Most importantly, use your fitness tracker to enhance and inform your intuition, not replace it.

This wasn’t intended to be a review of all the available fitness trackers. It was a quick review of the evidence for and against along with my personal take on the technology.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with wearables down below. What worked? What didn’t? What did you gain from wearing a fitness tracker? What have you lost?

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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68 thoughts on “Should You Wear a Fitness Tracker?”

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  1. I use a pedometer because I’m in a statewide walking challenge. Prior to the challenge, I wore it to make sure I walked at least five miles a day. Not sure I’d want to keep track of my sleep. I would probably look at the data and feel tired.

  2. Great evaluation. I enjoy tracking my mileage on hikes, but don’t use tracking as a cornerstone of my fitness routine

  3. Like you said, Mark, it’s a great tool for honing in on that fat burning sweet spot when tracking heart rate. But once that’s dialed in, and you get an idea of what that zone feels like, you can start to go it alone.

  4. Sleep tracking seems relatively fruitless in the wearables context. Sure, you may glean some useful information in a formal sleep study. Diagnose sleep apnea, etc. But I don’t really trust a wrist watch to gauge something as complex as the quality of my sleep. Like you said, it’s basically just confirming or denying your subjective experience, which doesn’t really offer any useful advice/information to work with

    1. I don’t even get measuring sleep. If there is one thing I think works pretty well “by feel” it’s sleeping. If I don’t wake up naturally, it’s pretty safe to say that sleep was lacking and/or not quality.

      1. I have been tracking my sleep using a smartphone app for a while now and it has really helped me to confirm that I need 8.5 hours of sleep to feel perfectly rested (which is more than most people get), preferrably going to bed and waking up about the same time each night/day. It’s not about knowing whether or not I have slept enough that night, that’s easy to tell. It’s more about noticing trends and how they make me feel in the long run, which in turn helps me to work towards an ideal.
        Also, tracking it holds me accountable in a way. I can’t fool myself into thinking that I’m sleeping more than I am; the app will tell me that I’m wrong. I can lie to myself, but I can’t lie to the app and the app doesn’t lie to me.

        1. Fair enough. And I don’t dissuade anyone from doing something that works.

          Sleep is my biggest area of weakness too. Between work, exercise, kids, and a house that never seems to share a common schedule it’s a challenge—albeit, one that’s solved through disciple.

    2. My wife uses the FitBit and monitors here sleep at night. According to the data collected she is getting only about 2-3 hours of sleep a night. I really do not know how it is keeping track of this just from heartrate but it is do some more study for sure.

      I personally do not think they are really very useful for tracking your fitness. Just get out there and move.

  5. A fitness tracker is just an “in” gizmo designed to appeal to electronics junkies and those among us who like to track absolutely everything. Nothing wrong with that if it happens to float your boat. For the rest of us, the proof is in the results.

  6. Wise advice as always! Especially “focus on trends, not numbers.” Isolated measurements are usually an incomplete or useless snapshot of information. It takes repeated, long term measurement for many of these fitness variables to get an accurate idea of what’s going on

  7. “within 5-10 years we’ll have consumer-level devices that accurately track sleep, calorie expenditure, metabolic rate, fat-vs-sugar-burning ratio, and dozens of other biomarkers.”

    If this occurs it won’t be with the current sensors on smart phones and fitness trackers. You are probably talking about electrodes, blood samples, etc. No thanks.

    I am perfectly happy with an inexpensive HRM (I paid $40 for mine) rather than an overpriced, inaccurate device.

  8. I use my Fitbit as an adjunct to my routine, not a guiding force. It’s just nice to see a record of my accomplishment once I’m done. Ultimately, the real motivation is how the exercise itself makes me feel, not the recording of it. It’s just a nice little perk

    1. I agree. It is very satisfying to look down and see that I made the 10k step mark, but it can also be useful when I’m about to finish my day. If I look down and see that I’m only a couple hundred steps from 10k steps I go take some more steps and get it done. With that said, it’s just an adjunct, but it can be helpful.

  9. Love the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value/motivation. The more you focus on the former, the more committed you’ll be in the long term.

  10. I’m curious if anyone is concerned about health risks from wearing electronic trackers? Thinking more of the signals sent between tracker and phones.. and the proximity to the wearer?

    1. I agree. Something to consider, if wearing one. For some, it is probably a sure way of keeping record and regimen objectives. For myself and friends I workout with not keeping track tends to allow for less stress of completing an exercise.

    2. …or privacy/security concerns–data have been leaked or hacked from these devices transmitting.

    3. Meh … I sincerely doubt there are any adverse health affects from the “signals” emanating from said devices. I’m more concerned about how the millions … sorry … billions of devices currently in circulation will be recycled or will they end up in mountains of landfills or in the ocean etc.

    4. You don’t have to use your phone at all times.

      I only sync my fitbit with my phone at most once a day — and most of the time I don’t sync it at all, I just use it as a pedometer and a watch.

    5. Wi-Fi, bluetooth, cellular, AM/FM, microwaves, etc. are all different forms of electromagnetic radiation. Another word for electromagnetic radiation is light. Electromagnetic radiation exists along a frequency spectrum and all the things I just listed are on the lower end of the frequency spectrum. As you move up in frequency you get to visible light which is emitted by light sources such as lightbulbs and the Sun and is reflected/absorbed by all objects around us. The human eye is tuned to these frequencies. Then as you move to the top of the spectrum you get to ultraviolet which comes from the Sun, x-rays like x-ray machines and gamma rays which are emitted by nuclear explosions and the explosions of stars. These high frequencies are in a class of their own as their energy leads to the breakdown of atoms and molecules. Hence why you wear sunscreen on hot days and avoid too many x-rays. This high energy is called ionizing radiation and is what people think of when they hear the term “radiation”. The frequencies in the visible spectrum and below are non-ionizing radiation and are mostly harmless. Cell phone signals and the like are akin to the flashing of a very dim bulb. So no, there is really nothing to worry about. I am more worried about the battery as they can get hot and explode.

      P.S. – Sorry for the information overload but science rocks.

  11. I only use my tracker to make sure I hit mileage because I have a tendency to get wrapped up in work and not move for quite a while. It reminds me to get going. Other than that I take it off at night because I can’t stand the feeling of having it against my skin and I figured out fairly early that it doesn’t track sleep well. I also do not use it when I feel like I’m focusing on it too much. Keeps things simple and easy.

  12. I picked up an Apple Watch about a year ago (not specifically for fitness either) and while I certainly don’t live and die by it from a health perspective there are somethings I really do like about it:

    1. Stand-up alerts (which are more like, “go move around alerts”) are nice during the work day. I don’t always need then, but some days when I really get into my work and am sitting it’s nice to get a tap that lets me know it’s been a while and to take a short walk.

    2. I’ve recently starting doing more endurance training, so the heart rate monitor is really handy.

    3. For me, once I hit a streak of consecutive days, it’s much harder for me to find an excuse to skip a day. I try to do something physical every day, even if it’s just walking a few miles. I don’t even break a sweat necessarily, but I’ve found that being sedentary all day always leads to crap sleep and just generally feeling lousy.

    4. It’s semi accurate about my movement during the day that’s non-exercise related. I can see, at a glance, how relatively idle a work day has been and adjust the evenings accordingly or even opt to walk at lunch (not during the summer!).

    I never use the watch standalone, so distance tracking always comes from the GPS which, in the little bit of testing I’ve done, is quite a bit more accurate.

    In my own experience, the people I know who got the trackers as motivators rarely pan out at all and the item ends up collecting dust. For those who were already active and wanted to get more data they’ve worked fine.

    They’re far more handy for tracking general motion and distance based activities. I haven’t found the tracking to be useful for lifting at all. I know there are people who do everything by feel, but tracking heart rate has been a huge boon for my endurance training and it’s nice to see if your speed is improving. I like to check my wrist and have a pretty good idea of whether to speed up or ease off. Maybe I’m just sadly out of touch with my own body, but now that I’m doing endurance training, I’m adapting quickly enough that it’s a moving target anyway.

    1. I love the movement reminder. I tend to get focused (ok, obsessed) on projects at work and the hours can disappear. Just the stupid thing vibrating is enough to get me up and out the door for a few minutes.

      I generally couldn’t care less about the steps, etc, since I almost always far exceed the 10K, but sometimes it’s fun to see how far you went, etc. Also, the sleep function, while imperfect, has resulted in me getting to bed earlier, so I don’t have to look at the frowning face the next day.

      People get to worked up both ways on these things. Haven’t we learned by now that it doesn’t matter how you get it done – just get it done!

      1. Yep. As a programmer it really helps break up sitting blocks when I kind of black out attention to everything around me. I also like that it WON’T remind me if I’ve already done it on my own in a space of time.

        I have a standing desk, but for whatever reason, when I’m really hammering out code, I can’t stand. My focus just isn’t the same for whatever reason, so the reminders then are especially beneficial.

  13. I’ve tried numerous activity trackers and ended up returning each and every one of them. Perhaps it’s just me, but they seemed inaccurate on all measures. I had purchased them for the heart rate monitors, but it seems the technology simply is not quite there yet. I’ll be waiting a few years before I even consider purchasing another.

    I agree it is better to rely on one’s own subjective feelings than what an overpriced piece of plastic says.

    Somewhat off topic, but I also found it strange that one of the trackers required me to connect to wi-fi and turn my location on my phone at all times. If I was not mapping my route, why use the location? Big Brother..always watching!

  14. Great post, Mark, I’m glad to see this covered here! I used a pedometer for a decade, and then bought a Fitbit HR in May 2015. I can get self-competitive, so I love seeing the daily miles rack up. I try to beat my weekly record, or at least to maintain a trend of those shiny green stars. And though I know the data are probably somewhat inaccurate, the thing does give me trends; mostly it corroborates my experience. (Tells me my sleep is pretty broken up, for instance. Bah!)

    Everybody’s different. For me, tracking my workouts the Luddite way (notebook, pen) works, and so does the Fitbit — both help me be a little more accountable to myself. A little boost of extrinsic motivation on top of pretty strong intrinsic motivation feels like a good thing.

  15. Luddite here: I find all the plugged-in world disturbing. I agree that to develop my intuition is of great value. Listening to my body, getting into natural settings. I tell my son: “Someone has to remember the old ways.”

  16. I am a 66 year-old female. I like building up a body of walking stats. I especially like being told “you have walked the length of Italy”. As a previous commenter said, there is motivation not to spoil your record.
    Overall, I am more active with one than without one, so I will continue.
    One benefit of the Fitbit no one has mentioned is the ability to show you the time without disturbing your partner, if you wake in the middle of the night!

  17. I have been using a fitbit hr for a while (almost a year)

    I have no use for the steps, calories, stairs (stairs I find 100% inaccurate). But it really shines in the heart rate.
    Also I use it as a glorified chronometer: press the button starting my workout, press it again at the end. and you get the time and how your heart rate did.

    And it tracks the time you are on the bike with 100% accuracy!

    It simplifies the tracking of your weight and body fat :easy to add to the phone app just after I weight myself with the scale that also gives body fat %
    Yes, yes: I prefer the convenience of the electronic body fat measurement compared to the caliper, I am lazy

    Interesting notes:

    1) I won in a raffle a Microsoft Band 2. I used it for a day and came back to the fitbit. The Band 2 you have to tell it that you are going to bed, you are going to workout, etc. The fitbit you can forget about everything and you get a fairly good record of what happened
    2) If you are into the steps thing (I am not) take it out before piano playing!
    3) The sleep tracking is not that good, but after you know its limitations I find it useful. Funny that when I wake up I can trick it staying motionless and it will show that time as sleeping 🙂

  18. I just signed up for the WHOOP primarily because it will track HRV. It won’t be released until December and it’s pricy. I have to admit, I never thought I would use a wearable since I journal my workouts but I thought this one might help me with my most difficult aspect of training, recovery.

  19. Grok used the sun for a watch and landmarks to inadvertently track steps. Technology is nice but unnecessary. I did buy a device at one point but it’s been bottom of a drawer since the battery quit. I use free smart phone apps if feel the urge to quantify data.

  20. Maybe I’m old school. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m a Luddite (who just so happens to run a successful online business). But I’m far more interested in fine-tuning my intuition than relying on technology to tell me how healthy I’m being.

    A question I like to ask Millenials who are gung-ho for anything techy and plug-in: what are you gonna do when the power goes out? Sure, that device runs on batteries, but for how long? How are you gonna recharge them?

    And while we’re at it, how are you gonna recharge that Kindle/Nook, your cell phone, your electric car, and any other battery-powered toys you may have when the ultimate source of power is offline (maybe permanently)? Sure, there are solar rechargers, but they’re weather-dependent, and take too long.

    Yes, a gas generator will do the job, but where are you gonna get the gas when you run out? Today’s gas pumps depend on electricity!

    This wearable craze is just the tip of a dependence iceberg when it comes to energy–let’s not mention the data leaks, and the vulnerability to hackers these things bring.

    You aren’t the only Luddite, Mark. I prefer real live books, doing as much as I can myself, and knowing/showing others how to survive when the power switch gets turned off (mostly by referring to my various field manuals and Boy Scout handbooks–all of which I can read without power input other than my own). I HAVE to know how to survive–I live in Hurricane Alley.

    1. Very insightful. Great point about surviving without technology.

    2. Makes me ponder if/when cash is banned and e-currencies are the new norm, what happens when the power goes out?

    3. When the power goes out the biggest gripe is going to be preventing fresh and frozen food from going bad. If the local supermarket is still working, they’ll have bags of ice. During Sandy, I bought a bags of ice each morning and put them in the deep freezer and the fridge.

      We have natural gas and so we have no trouble with heat or the stove. The oven, microwave, and heating system won’t work without electricity however.

      We do have a generator and we do have a bunch of UPS’s and we’ve signed up to install solar. I might opt for a generator that can take natural gas and attach it to the house gas line.

      Powerloss happened to us during Sandy. We lived. It sucked, but it wasn’t horrible.

      e-paper kindles did fine. Phones and tablets did not. It’s not a big deal. We have plenty of enelope rechargeable batteries and used them for lighting.

      Here, they even passed a law that says all gas stations here must now have generators so if the power goes out, we should, in theory, still be able to get gasoline.

      The solar company said that for about $8K they could install a whole house battery pack that could be attached to the solar, we didn’t opt to install that, we might if we feel it’s worth it later on – more than likely we’ll just upgrade the gasoline generator to be able to run on natural gas if we have spare cash. So between the solar, UPS’s and generator we’ll do fine. Yes, I know solar shuts down when it doesn’t see a sine wave. I’ll figure something out with the generator.

      The plan is that we’ll shut down all the circuits except for the ones running the freezer (and the heating system if it’s winter), and maybe the living room. We can charge our cell phones and other crap off that. We still have our sleeping bags if it’s in winter.

      In a pinch, you could get an inverter for your car and use that for electronics. It’s totally doable.

      Not worried about any impending zombie apocalypse. Besides, I hear BBQ zombie meat is delicious, and very much paleo.

  21. I recently did a trek at Philmont (a high adventure Boy Scout camp) with a dad who had a FitBit. I don’t normally use one or even check my iPhone Health app, but it was facinating to see what we did in 11 days! Stats below:

    Steps = 438,980 (Nearly ½ a million!)
    Distance = 176.65 Miles
    Floors climbed = 1823
    Calories burned = 68,105

  22. I have had the FitBit Charge HR, and here are the pros and cons so far:


    I can tell what time it is by looking at an object on my wrist.

    The watch is supposed to light up when it detects you are looking at it. There’s a distinctive movement you make as you lift your wrist and turn it for viewing. This only works about 2/3 of the time. When it fails, you end up looking at a blank FitBit. If I really want to see the time, I can hit the button.

    Yet another thing to keep charged up.

    I don’t trust the calorie burn calculation. How can they possible do this accurately using just the heart beat? And even if it was accurate, would that help?

    With the recent hot weather in my area, I had to stop wearing it for a couple of days. The rubber wristband is just too uncomfortable in the heat.

    The heart rate is not accurate enough to do a 180-age workout. You have to keep looking at the FitBit; there’s no warning of you get out of range. I had to by a cheap Polar (FT1 I think) to get something that had an audible alarm for the heart rate, and it is a lot more accurate. FitBit and Polar often disagree wildly about my heart rate, especially during a workout.

    There’s no actionable information. Yeah, I know I don’t get enough sleep. Heart rate is not accurate, either in real time or in aggregate. I don’t care that much about steps. Can’t trust the calorie burn readings.

    Is there a privacy problem? What happens to my data after it gets uploaded to the FitBit web site? Can it be used for targeted advertising, or worse?

    So why am I still wearing it?

  23. I had a fitbit charge hr that I used for 7 months until i lost it somewhere in New York.i already noticed that it had the tendency to release automatically from its clamp and true enough it fell off from my wrist without me noticing it. Needless to say i was so unhappy about what happened. I liked the mobile app in IOs.

    Anyway, I was so close to buying the fitbit Surge had it not been for the bulky sides, it felt too big on my wrist. I check apple watch, apart from the cost the big let down for me is the battery, it only lasts for 18hrs. I dont Feel the need for other features when i have the iphone anyway.

    My search brought me into this site and this is where I found the review on Garmin VivosmartHR. I bought it at Target just today. So far so good, i love that i can just swipe through the screen, the notification is a bonus- i still think the fitbit app is better in terms of synchronization and ease of use, but then I only have the garmin app for a day, we’ll see….

  24. I track my walking by blocks. Eaaier and i have actually mentally counted steps before. I used to walk a mile to and from the pool pushing toddler in stroller. There and back roughly 10000 steps. That plus supported pushups in water and various other leg exercises whike she pkayed helped trim me up

  25. I started out with a Jawbone Up which was basically just a glorified pedometer and mostly useless for anything else, and it broke easily.

    I used to have the Basis Peak, which has been killed off by Intel, supposedly because 0.2% of them overheat and could cause burns. But possibly due to a deal by Intel, its parent company, with a high end watch maker, but that’s another story.

    It had some issues – the screen would start to break up and eventually cause the watch to die. I suspect this is because either the waterproofing seal breaks down after a while and humidity condensates inside of it shorting it out (hence the recall). When new they work just fine, after a while, when exposed to heat, the screen would break up – I had sent one in for RMA because of this, and right before the recall my 2nd one started showing the same broken glitch screens.

    What it did have were skin galvanometric sensors to measure sweat, two thermometers to help calculate calories and a very good heart rate sensor which worked even when moving, unlike it’s predecessor.

    As with most of these products, they require a phone and internet connection to sync – they push the data to their servers rather than work on your computer, so when they shut down their servers on Dec 31st, 2016, all of these remaining bands will be totally useless. You can download your data until then…

    I switched to the Garmin Vivoactive HR. The other choice was the Fitbit Blaze which is much nicer appearance wise, but less useful feature wise, and isn’t waterproof. While the Vivoactive HR is an ugly ugly beast, the features it has more than made up for it’s lack of aesthetics.

    The Garmin seems to be fairly accurate HR wise, though a bit laggy by a few seconds. I used a pulse oximeter and wore both the Basis band at the same time as the Garmin and all 3 report roughly the same heart rate, so I don’t buy that they’re not accurate. I wore these on an exercise bike and rode at the highest speed and moved around quite a bit. Either they’re all inaccurate in the same way, or the reports of them not being accurate is incorrect.

    I bought these trackers because I do want to track sleep patterns, and for that both the Peak and the Vivoactive HR are very useful. I have this pattern of staying up later and later to watch TV, which I shouldn’t, but, these two help me curb that. Yes, I feel awful if I don’t get enough enough sleep, but that’s not enough of a deterrent to not watch Game of Thrones. 🙂 So at least with these I can track that yes, indeed, I did get only 6 hours of sleep on Sunday night and I felt horrible the next day.

    But they also provide loads of insight. For example, I now know for certain that using a standup desk, I burn off an extra 400 calories per day. I know, not accurate, but even so, relatively, I burn off more and whether it’s 393 or 402 calories isn’t the point, but rather that it clearly quantifies that a certain behavior has impact on energy use.

    I also know for a fact that if I consume MCT oil (the usual bulletproof coffee bit), I tend to burn off yet another 200-300 more calories per day for whatever reason, whether this is from the exogenous ketones or if its just from the MCT isn’t too important.

    I also know that if I walk too much I can quantify the number of steps that are too much and count it as chronic cardio because I know I overdid it two days ago, and today I can’t function. And I can use this to stop before that limit and not overdo it next time.

    So the this all fits in with the quantified self ideal, and works very well.

    In summary, yeah, IMHO, absolutely a tracker. Yes, the evil big brother companies will have access to your data and may do double-plus ungood things to it, and sure, if you get one that has a GPS in it like my Garmin, they can track you, but so what!

    You’re already being tracked by this website. My ghostery plugin tells me that MDA has 14 trackers on it right now, so why mind?

    You’ll gain insight into your body and how it reacts to various activities. And having a heart rate monitor is extremely useful because you can use the age formula for your maximum heart rate* to know what zone** you’re in and to avoid over doing it, or to aim for burning fat vs glycolitic, etc. and to know your RHR (Resting Heart Rate) and recovery heart rate, so you can see if your fitness level improves or gets worse, to see if you overtrain, etc.

    (Phew, that was quite the run on, now excuse me, but my watch is reminding me tol go for a run now. 🙂

    * Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
    ** 60%-70% of your maximum heart rate for fat burning.

    1. I must reiterate what I said earlier. The world’s gone insane!

  26. Good article. I’m reminded of inline skating legend Eddy Matzger, winner of over 100 inline skating races, when asked how he knew if he was overtraining:

    “You lose your motivation to get out there and do what you love! … When your body tells you something, you have to listen. I used to be a slave to a heart-rate monitor, but then I got to know my body. Now I wake up in the morning and do yoga. If my balance is good, then I know I have slept well and can pile on the training. If I am not quite on, I back off a little.”

  27. As part of a healthy workplace our group of sitdown workers got wearables and use them to track steps, we each set our own goals and measure our progress (whatever tat means to each person). I really like the visual reminder to move.

  28. If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.
    So say all my athlete friends!

  29. I’ve been laughing at all these high tech data collectors since they came out. Sleep tracker? Sheesh. Tired in the morning? Then go to bed earlier or don’t eat such a large supper or whatever. Been sitting too long and you need a watch to tell you to get up and move around a bit? Holy moly.

    I’m an old guy. My friends are all old guys. To a man we are all highly amused at all this tech stuff telling people to do–or how to do–activities man has been doing since we appeared on this planet.

    We are appreciative though of the GPS system. Damned handy. Heart-rate monitors are cool also. All that other stuff is only good for conversation topics at the copy machine. (“Ha! I walked 26 more steps yesterday than you did.”)

  30. Fitbit for 5 years very motivating. It doesn’t have to be exact. Now I have a Garmin Vivosmart HR + and I love it. Motivation is what I need most, so I set a walking goal (steps) and try to keep it for a month then up it till I get to 10,000 a day. Love the heart rate for exercises. Style is also important.

  31. I’m really surprised you don’t address the issue of EMF exposure and other electrical interference wearing these things. Especially if one is wearing them during sleep.

  32. Wow this was a hot topic!!! I do not have any type of tracking device, and have no plans of getting one. To me it’s just another gadget. I know I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t need a device to tell me that. I have used a pedometer in the past out of curiosity and I get way more than 10,000 steps most days. I want to move because I feel like moving, or because my dog wants to walk, rather than because I’m trying to get enough steps in. But this is my opinion. I have friends that find them very motivating which is great!

  33. The biggest thing I gained from my fitbit was the realisation of how little I actually do move during an average work day in the office so from that aspect it was great.

    I personally love the heart rate tracking. I don’t take the actual number as gospel but seeing the general downward trend in resting bpm has helped me see my fitness improving, this has been great especially when the scales aren’t moving so you can still see a positive effect from all the hard work at the gym!

  34. Hello, I’ve been running long distance for 40+ years without the aid of gadgets (not even music player) and trusted the signals given by my body. Around 5 years ego I switched to running sprints (on flat terrain and uphill) and a little trail running. And suddenly I got the itch to run a marathon when I turn 60 next year. I intend on applying the MAF method – 180 minus age (thanks Mark for the introduction) and would need a heart monitor.

    1. Can anyone recommend one that won’t necessitate carrying a cellphone? 2. What do you think of the “Polar H7”?


  35. i wear a samsung gear fit2. i enjoy it, mainly because i am just a data junkie dork though. i do not live and die by the numbers this thing tells me. i realize it has limitations and take it with a grain of salt.

  36. I got a FitBit Charge HR as a gift (would not have bought it), and I have a different take.

    Yes, I like checking my steps, but it’s totally inaccurate. We wear it on our wrists, not ankles. So if I walk through my (enormous) supermarket but am pushing the cart, it records NO steps! But if I am sitting and watching TV and swing my arms around, it will add steps!

    I am a ‘senior,’ and I find that it i quite accurate for sleep. For example, I get up 2-3 times during the night to use the bathroom, and it always records that. In addition, if my sleep is disturbed, I will often nap, and it accurate records the time of these naps.

    I don’t rely on it at all for calories burned because it’s just using a standard algorithm based on height and weight and age, not actually monitoring me.

    Overall, it’s nice to have, but I would not have purchased it were it not a gift.

  37. My parents seem to be benefitting with their Fitbits through an increased focus on daily activity and just a general uptick overall in awareness of their wellness. I am appreciative of that.

    For me personally, I am not interested in a wearable. I did get an app on my phone, though, to log meals and get percentage splits of carbs, protein, and fats. That was an eye-opening process and the data proved invaluable for my wellness efforts.

  38. I purchased a Fitbit Alta (at a discount) back in March to participate in a university-sponsored walking challenge. I’d been doing some walking, but obviously not enough — at first I was lucky to get to the minimum 6,000 steps. It not only motivated me to start walking more, but the Alta has the “get up and walk” notification when you haven’t done at least 250 steps every hour. Since I’m at the computer a lot of the time for work, it’s nice to be told to move, because it’s not on my radar when I’m deep into a project. (And sometimes, when I get up, I can tell I haven’t moved — I’m actually stiff!) I don’t necessarily go by the accuracy of the device, but it’s nice to get the ballpark numbers. It’s been a big help to me in trying to get healthier. [And motivating me into better eating — doing the Whole 30 right now.]

  39. Totally agree with Mark. Just started Primal endurance and have bought a simple heart monitor to ensure I stay in the zone. As explained in the book it’s tough to go that slow – 115bpm – so you can tell my age. Took up squash a couple of years ago but now want to lift my aerobic levels as the intensity of the game knocks me for six for the rest of the day.
    Been Primal for 7 years now and all the time you see people trying to micro manage every aspect of their diet and training…….how many cups of coffee can I drink in a day, if I eat a sprig of broccoli with my cup cake is that primal, I’ve managed to IF for three days but starting to feel a bit giddy is there something wrong (all said with tongue in cheek of course). Using monitors that punch out a load of data just adds another level of stress in your life and tells you bugger all. If you’re tired – go to bed. If you’re hungry – eat. If you ran a little slower than last week you probably need to rest or just play with the kids.
    I’ve realised that there is a totally distinct difference between health and fitness. Friends of mine play squash, badminton, cycle and walk but they take (in one case) 18 tablets a day for all their medical ailments.
    Concentrate on the diet and fitness levels will improve – you certainly don’t need electronic gizmos to tell you that.

  40. The one thing that really surprised me after getting my Fitbit was how running errands, parking farther away, shopping, etc, really does add up. I can hit 10,000 just window shopping with my friends.

  41. I think it’s a case of if it works for you…

    I have a fairly basic Fitbit flex that I got for Christmas, I also track my food and exercise on mfp. It has really helped me get back on track this year, I may or may not continue with it.

    I usually hit 10,000 steps easily with the school run, but not so easily in the school holidays, so it keeps me going. I also track how I feel on the exercise notes on mfp, so yesterday, we were at the beach and a lot of the walking was up and down cliff paths, carrying various heavy loads.

    It has certainly helped me get my sleep in better order, with go to bed reminders and trying to get between 7 and 8 hrs sleep.

    I find it a useful tool, but it isn’t the be all and end all.

  42. Ive been wearing a FitBit HR for over a year, which tracks steps, HR, and sleep. Its not perfect, but as someone who loves data, Ive learned a few things:

    1. Your heart rate goes way up after a night of drinking. Generally my heart rate is in the 40s-50s when I sleep, but after a night of drinking, it can be in the 60-80 range. It partially explains why Im exhausted the next day. My sleep sucked.

    2. My resting heart rate goes up when im not feeling well, and can be somewhat predictive of when i need rest.

    3. It overestimates calories burned by A LOT. Don’t follow it – you’ll get fat quick if you do.

    4. Its useful for trends. As the post said, the distance and steps may not be perfect, but who really cares about the EXACT distance or steps you took? Its measurement is consistent, so its all relative. Knowing if you took more or less than the day/week/month before is the key.

    5. The sleep tracking is pretty good. I dont know how useful that is, but its accurate and interesting to look at. Are you getting more or less than you normally do? At the end of the day though, your body will let you know if you need more sleep.

  43. I have used the FitbBit Zip since January 2016. I prefer this device because I don’t wear t on my wrist, it goes in my pocket. It only tracks steps, not sleeping or anything else.

    The best part about FitBit is the web interaction at FitBit Connect. There you can make friends with others and have a bit of a group mentality: seing where you are in the group of friends you have, seeing how everyone is doing, encouraging others and being encouraged.

    I will say that the accuracy isn’t a big deal for me. It is the relative activity levels from day to day and week to week that are most important to me.

    And it DOES get me to walk more! If I am close to 10,000 steps for the day, I find myself going for a walk around the neighborhood just to get to the goal, even if is it 11pm!!

    I love my FitBit Zip!

  44. I love my Jawbone, despite what all of the soap-box jumpers think about the devices.

  45. Few years ago, fitness trackers were found in either a triathletes wrist or on the pages of an airline shopping magazine! Now these products have started speaking to the needs of the real people. They have started using the currency, which is relatable to all of us. In addition, the Smartphone unlocks a lot of the richness of what the device is learning about you displaying on its nice intuitive interface or also via web services that let you not only get deep into whats happening but also gamify your performance against the people you know or the broader user population wearing that kind of device.

  46. “I’m far more interested in fine-tuning my intuition than relying on technology to tell me how healthy I’m being. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them.” — Me too! If I’m tired, I sleep. If I’m hungry, I eat (primally of course). If I’m tight and achy, I stretch. If I’m stressing, I meditate. I do use and love technology but I’ve found the one device that really does it all (love the Apple iPhone 6+) and I’ve found I don’t need a wrist wearable but I do look at the health app occasionally to see my steps. I put my iPhone in my little waist pouch and off I go. Let’s face it, who goes out anywhere anymore without their smart phone? I’d guess it’s very few.

  47. I bought a 60beat HRV tracker… But stopped using it because you had to apply water to it and it was too cold in my apartment in ohio where I didn’t turn the heat on…
    Also, when I ran, it kept shutting off and wouldn’t read. I don’t recommend it.

  48. I wear a Fitbit and have done for a year . Although I wasn’t over weight I wanted to be more active . And I have achieved that and more , it helped me get on the right track for health and being fitter which in turn lend me to your website , and a better way of eating and being happy .