Fitness trackers... do they work?

July 12, 2016
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It's 4:27 pm. Suddenly, there's a tapping on my wrist. I look down at my Apple Watch, and it reminds me that I need to "close my activity rings." Apparently, it will only take 16 minutes of a brisk walk to achieve my movement goal for the day. Sixteen minutes? I can do that!! And off I go. I am not ashamed to admit that there have even been evenings when I've been doing jumping jacks and running on the spot in my PJs because of those rings. But having these daily targets has kept me accountable and exercising every day. And that's the beauty of an activity or fitness tracker – they get you moving more and burning more calories.

Anything that drags you out of your bed, chair, or away from the computer and increases your activity level can only be good for your health, both physical and mental. Activity trackers make you aware of how little movement you're getting in your everyday life and make you more creative about how to get more exercise into your day. Suddenly doing the housework or putting out the rubbish is no longer a chore but an opportunity to move more and increase your steppage or calorie burn. Do you drive around the car park looking for a spot closest to the escalators? Not if you have a movement tracker!

Of course, there are now a myriad of different types of activity and fitness trackers out there. Which one is best depends on what you're looking for and how much you're willing to spend. If it's just steps you're after, you can use an old-fashioned pedometer, which clips onto your pants or skirt. These simply measure the number of steps you take in a day, the long-accepted health guide being that we should aim for 10,000 steps a day for basic health and 15,000 a day and above for weight loss. But these have their limitations, as any time you take a step, it will click over. You can also take it off your belt, sit on the couch, and shake it up and down while eating doughnuts and watching television!

Then there's the plethora of wristband activity trackers, which are so much more than basic step counters. Depending on the brand, they can function as your 24/7 health and wellness monitor, with heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, GPS for running, and sports performance monitoring. Which one you need depends on what you are looking for and what motivates you. Generally speaking, those with inbuilt heart-rate monitors are better, as they can distinguish between simple movement and exercise that raises your heart rate. Some trackers even include a social component, so that you can compete with your friends to see who clocks up the most calories, steps, or kilometers in a week – if that floats your boat.

Want something even more high-tech? Then you can't go past the fitness tracker/watch hybrids, such as the Apple Watch or Garmin Vivoactive. From the first day, I've been obsessed with my Apple Watch and its three activity rings, which focus on your overall health and well-being. The activity ring challenge is to complete a stand goal by standing up once every hour for twelve hours a day, then to complete 30 minutes of exercise which elevates your heart rate a day, and the last is to reach your daily movement goal (based on calories), which you set yourself. The "reward" when you reach your goal is your ring closing in a glorious and fiery display celebrating your success. Plus you get a weekly summary and can even earn Apple badges to celebrate your success. Wow, just wow. ;-)

So before you buy one, you need to work out whether you are motivated by numbers only, by meeting activity goals, competing with your friends, or taking it one step further and assessing your running, swimming, or cycling performance.

Some of the fitness trackers I've used include:

  • Fitbit Alta HR: has a heart rate monitor which displays metrics for resting heart rate alongside your progress towards your daily step and sleep goals.
  • Moov Now: the best tracker if you're a keen swimmer, as it functions well in the pool or ocean, being waterproof to 30m. It analyses your swim session, and when you return to your locker you'll get data on your stroke type, rate, distance, and efficiency, your lap times, etc. It also functions well as a fitness tracker, with great running and coaching functions.
  • Garmin Vivosmart 3: a great option if you like to mix things up with a combination of interval training, weights, and running. It has an inbuilt heart rate monitor with automatic exercise detection, so you don't miss out if you forget to press start at the beginning of your session.
  • Apple Watch: features the 3 activity rings to keep you on track. Its heart rate monitor assesses your heart rate and movement data to determine your daily calorie/kilojoule usage, and even separates resting caloric expenditure from active calories. Also gives steps, and options to record HIIT, weights, and most types of cardio. As a bonus, the information is relayed to the Health app on your iPhone.

Depending upon your budget, some of the fitness trackers available are great value for money. Here are a few different options at some big chain stores:


  • Fitbit Flex 2 – $88: monitors activity, sleep, and is wearable for swimming too.
  • Fitbit Charge – $188: monitors activity, sleep, heart rate, multi-sport tracking, and smartphone notifications.
  • Garmin Vivosmart3 – $194: monitors activity, sleep, heart rate, and you can swim and shower in it.
  • Garmin Forerunner – $599: measures heart rate, plays music, assesses your running dynamics, monitors recovery, and you can pay through this watch with a stored card.


  • Stocks mainly Fitbits and Garmin, so has a much smaller range than JB Hifi.
  • Fitbit Flex 2 – $149
  • Garmin Vivofit 3 – $159: monitors activity and sleep, connects to smartphone app, waterproof.

David Jones

  • Stocks mainly Apple and Samsung watches.

Happy tracking!

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