Wellness - Aug 14, 2018

Your Fitness on Track: Choosing a Fitness Tracker

Vicki McGrath
Choosing a Fitness Tracker

Fitness trackers are everywhere these days, from smart phones, bracelets, and wristwatches to discreet clip-ons attached to your waistband or slipped in your pocket. Since their launch in the early 2000s, the word is out that wearable fitness trackers do just what their name implies: they use sensors to track your movement, such as walking, hiking, running, swimming, biking, and climbing. In addition, many fitness trackers also track your heart rate, GPS location, the weather, altitude, and sleep patterns, to name a few. Sophisticated options include syncing with your smart phone to receive alerts for incoming calls, texts, instant messaging, and email.  Whew!

Why Track?

If you want motivation to start moving and keep moving, a fitness tracker provides helpful data that can inspire you to cultivate healthy habits.  Just seeing proof that you’ve hit the recommended number of 10,000 steps per day can be inspiration enough to walk the dog an extra block or try that new Zumba class. But with so many brands and options to choose from, which tracker is right for you?

Before Purchasing a Fitness Tracker

The choices can be overwhelming, as can be the prices. Before getting seduced by all the bells and whistles and whipping out your credit card, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What, and how much, do you want to track?
  • Do you just want to count steps or are you also a swimmer and want to count/time laps?
  • Are you tracking altitude changes when hiking or skiing?
  • Are you interested in monitoring your heart rate, caloric intake, water consumption, and/or sleeping patterns?

And of course, how much do you want to spend?  Generally, just like a car, more options mean more money. If all you want to do is count steps, save yourself a dime and download a free tracker app for your smart phone, such as Stepz or Walker. Your iPhone also comes equipped with a handy built-in pedometer.

Types of Fitness Trackers

The range of activities and features depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what you want at your ready disposal.

Basic all-day trackers measure:

  • Steps taken
  • Stairways climbed
  • Duration of exercise
  • Active minutes
  • Sleep time

An all-day tracker, such as the Fitbit Zip, also tracks steps, distance, and calories burned.  The advantage of this device is that it can be easily and discreetly placed in a pocket or attached to a belt or bra.  The Fitbit Flex intentionally resembles jewelry, something you could wear when dressed up.  These types of trackers start at $60.

Training Trackers

These trackers do everything all-day trackers do while also tracking multiple activities. In addition, they monitor:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Miles traveled
  • Speed, pace, route
  • Swimming lap times
  • Altitude changes (helpful for skiers, cyclists, hikers, etc.)

Prepare to pay anywhere from $120 – $1,500.

Your Final Step

Whether you just want to hit your 10,000 steps each day or are interested in taking your workout to the next level, there’s a fitness tracker that will meet your needs. First, do your homework. Read reviews for pros and cons, and don’t be afraid to ask your local retailer for advice (my favorite is REI, where you can return any item up to a year after purchase).

And then, start moving!


Vicki McGrath is the PJCC Fitness and Wellness Manager. In addition, she is a certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Post Rehabilitative Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist, and oversees Pink Ribbon at the PJCC, a postoperative workout designed to enhance recovery for breast cancer patients and survivors.

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