Fitness trackers have been on the market for years now, with mainstays like Fitbit and Garmin boasting decades of experience creating wearable products meant to track your steps, heart rate, and other key metrics. And in recent years, a growing body of evidence has suggested that these fitness trackers are more than just frosting—in fact, researchers from the University of Florida found that wearables are particularly useful in motivating folks to work out. As Johns Hopkins cardiologist Seth Martin has previously noted, “Fitness trackers are a great tool for heart health. Being more active and changing your habits is important, but it can be difficult. Tracking likely helps a lot of people when combined with a clear goal to shoot for.” In particular, it’s the accountability element of trackers that make them so effective. Dr. Martin suggests that these trackers give “people information and empowers them to start making changes for heart health.” This is useful because activity levels can otherwise be difficult to track.
Clearly, the primary benefit of a fitness tracker is to help you adopt healthier habits. Many of these wearables keep tabs on sleep, water intake, and calories burned in addition to the standard step tracking feature. Researchers from Northwestern tracking employee behavior over three years concluded that those who wore fitness trackers decreased their number of sick days by 44 percent.
But with so many options now on the market, are all wearables created equal? Certainly not. There are different fitness trackers for different needs, some of which are best suited for particular types of activities or lifestyles. Check out some of our favorites for different activities below.
The Fitbit Charge 4 boasts a built-in GPS tracker, a 3-axis accelerometer for more accurate positioning (some trackers use a 2-axis accelerometer instead), an optical heart rate monitor, and a long seven-day battery life if you’re not using the on-board GPS feature (it lasts five hours if you're using the GPS). It’s one of the most advanced trackers that Fitbit has released in quite some time, and thanks to its lightweight body and sleek design, it doesn’t weigh you down on your run. Unsurprisingly, the Charge 4 is one of the most accurate wearables I’ve come across in actually tracking my mileage—after all, there’s nothing more frustrating than having your wearable misreport the length of your run when you’re trying to hit weekly goals.
I also appreciate that the wearable features Spotify controls, smartphone notifications (including calendar and weather data), as well as a built-in timer and alarm. Plus, it’s water resistant up to 50 meters, so there are absolutely no worries if you’re running in bad weather.
Shop now: Fitbit Charge 4, $149.95
Garmin has become somewhat synonymous with cycling technology, and it’s little surprise that the company has a wide range of top-notch fitness trackers for the cycling enthusiasts in the world. We’re particularly fond of the Venu, a beautifully designed GPS smartwatch that will track your location so, so accurately and keep you looking stylish while you’re at it. The Venu is somewhat lighter than the vivoactive 4, which offers some of the same bells and whistles but with a less elegant design.
The Venu comes with tons of features that will come in handy on a long bike ride. Not only will it carefully monitor your position, but it also offers a wide range of health stats including energy levels, blood oxygen saturation, and respiration rates. You also don’t need to keep your phone nearby in order to access many of the key features of the Venu, including your favorite playlists. And if you find yourself on a multi-day biking adventure, the smartwatch will last you up to five days on a single charge.
Shop now: Garmin Venu, $350
When it comes to swimming with wearables, I’m always a little bit cautious. It’s not that I don’t believe that the trackers are water-resistant, but it’s more that I’m convinced that the water makes it easier to somehow lose my wearable. As such, the Xiaomi Mi Band 3, at just a fraction of the price of most other fitness trackers on the market, is my ideal pick for swimming. Waterproof up to 50 meters and boasting many of the same features as its more expensive competitors, this simple fitness tracker will go just about anywhere with you and monitor your fitness levels while you’re at it.
I appreciate that the tracker not only displays texts, but also WhatsApp messages, Facebook messages, and incoming calls. Plus, with 20 days of battery life, this is a band that’s clearly built for a long time outdoors. That said, it’s not necessarily the most accurate of the bunch, so keep that in mind while making your decisions.
Shop now: Xiaomi Mi Band 3, $28
Who says you need a gym to do your favorite strength training routines? With the Apple Watch, you can set specific exercise modes catered to various types of exercise, including hiking, rowing, elliptical-ing, and yes, HIIT. This particular mode is designed precisely for your intense bursts of activity, punctuated by shorter rests, and the Apple Watch will allow you to set goals in terms of timing or calorie count. Should you need a longer rest, you can also hit pause or stop on the large Apple Watch face, making it the ideal wearable for workouts that may leave you shaking and sweating up a storm.
While the Apple Watch is currently on the Series 5 model, you can get much of the same functionality in older versions as well. The Series 3, for example, comes in at under $200 and is still just as effective at workout tracking as the newest iteration (which is twice as expensive), should you be looking to save some dough.
Shop now: Apple Watch Series 5, $400
If you’re taking your at-home yoga practice to the next level, you could always add the Withings Move smartwatch. Sleek and unassuming, this is the fitness tracker for yogis who don’t really want to be wearing a fitness tracker (not very zen, after all). In fact, this particular wearable looks just like a regular watch, and is designed to be as simple as possible. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t give you key insights into your activities—in fact, this wearable tracks some 30 types of activities, including, of course, yoga.
What I love most about the Withings Move is that it boasts an unparalleled 18-month battery life, so if you find yourself on a long yoga retreat, you won’t have to worry about plugging in your smartwatch every few days. It’s also water resistant up to 50 meters, and comes in a wide range of colors and styles to match your person yogi aesthetic.
Shop now: Withings Move, $74
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