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Data Crunch: The Best Fitness Trackers

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The latest crop of wearable tech gadgets can track your every move, the number of calories you burn, even the quality of your sleep. But are these devices the key to a fitter body or are they a case of information overload? Here, get the verdict on whether you should plug in to shape up.

The New "It" in Fitness

It's a truth universally acknowledged that technology has played a role in making us less active. But at the same time it has seduced us with the promise that it can save us from its ills: Sales of wearable technology that can link to the Internet or work with mobile apps will grow from $8.6 billion in 2012 to almost $30 billion by 2018, notes IHS, an industry forecaster.

Activity trackers like the Fitbit, Jawbone UP24, and Nike+ FuelBand, among others, have created a market for next-generation pedometers, so to speak -- well-dressed motion sensors that talk to your smartphone by way of Bluetooth technology and count your steps, calories burned, and even sleep. Thanks to this virtual arms race, one in 10 Americans over age 18 now owns a modern activity tracker, according to a January 2014 survey by Endeavour Partners, a strategy consulting firm.

The latest science on sitting has only fueled this tech boom in get-off-your-butt gadgets. A stream of research suggests that the other 23 hours when you're not working out are crucial in dictating how healthy you are and your weight fate. A 2010 study of 123,216 people, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that the more leisure time spent sitting, the higher the risk of premature death: Women who sat for more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who sat for less than three hours, no matter how much other physical activity they got.

Wearable trackers can shine a light on the inner couch potato you didn't know you had. Sierra Gullan, 28, of Chicago, regularly logs sub-nine-minute miles and thinks of herself as active, so she was surprised when her Fitbit revealed how little she moved otherwise.

"I work in an office," she explains. She now makes a point of getting up and moving, walking to the store, and hopping on her treadmill at the end of the day, if necessary, to hit her daily 12,000 steps.

Nike's latest iteration, the Nike+ FuelBand SE, motivates users to move for at least five minutes to "win the hour"; it alerts you if you've been sitting for 45 minutes. That's based on the company's noticing that 98 percent of its roughly 20 million users exercised but spent huge chunks of the day sitting down. The Fitbit and Jawbone UP also nudge you to meet your goal with alerts.

Meanwhile, chances are your gym is already plugged in to wearable tech. The chain 24Hour Fitness offered training packages utilizing BodyMedia armband-style trackers for a couple of years, and LifeTime Fitness, with clubs in 23 states, recently launched a program in which trainers help clients choose from among recommended gadgets like the Fitbit. "Movement during the day is almost more important than the time people spend working out with us," says Jennifer Keskey, LifeTime's national program manager of assessments and devices.

Of course, wristband trackers didn't take off due to their technology alone; they had to be more sleek than geek for us to want to wear them. The Fitbit and Jawbone UP come in candy colors, and the Nike+ FuelBand is so trendy that last year Vogue devoted a page in the September issue to "the A-list's chicest accessory." (Gwyneth Paltrow, however, wears a Jawbone UP, and Kelly Ripa a Fitbit Flex.) Sonny Vu, the founder of Misfit Wearables, whose pebble-size metallic Shine is widely praised on style, says, "Our dream is to make something so beautiful you'd wear it even if it didn't work."

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frederic95881 wrote:

I think this FreeWavz company is bringing the coolest wearable tech I have seen yet.

7/24/2014 09:34:05 PM Report Abuse
pearlyvict22209 wrote:

Tracking fitness is a bonus that really gives new meaning to working out. When you can know how many calories you burned, how far you ran, heart rate, etc., it really puts things in perspective.

5/31/2014 10:00:47 AM Report Abuse
bea_karnes wrote:

I wear a Jawbone UP. In addition to tracking my fitness, it tracks my sleep--a great reminder of the value of rest in total health.

5/13/2014 12:13:32 PM Report Abuse

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