Written by Lara Lewington


How to let an activity tracker change your life

Devices and apps to help you record activity and get you moving more? Surely just another money-making con, right? Wrong, says fitness fanatic Lara Lewington.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

What is an activity tracker?

It does what it says on the tin. A small device, often in the form of a wristband, that monitors all of your day’s movement: footsteps, distance covered and, based on the personal data you’ve provided, calories burned. Some add floors climbed, sleep, cycling, swimming, heart-rate recordings and all sorts to the mix.

Why would you want one?

Clear your mind of all preconceptions. If, like me, you were the girl no one wanted in the netball team, this is what you have been waiting for since your schooldays. You may have spent years avoiding competitive sport, or even working out in the gym, not wanting to feel inferior to the person next to you. Wear a fitness tracker and it can all be your little secret*. No one else matters; you can work towards your own goals, improve in your own time, and compete against yourself – which should never leave you feeling bad.

Isn’t it just a bit of a novelty?

Get started and you’ll be desperately lusting after that sexy data in no time.

Will it really make me more active?

Think of the guilt. You set yourself a goal: not to run a marathon; not to be as good as Linda from work; just your own personal, achievable goal. You haven’t achieved it? Shame.

But surely I’ll just feel like I can eat more?

Well, you’ll know exactly how many calories you are burning, and can sync your device with an app that allows you to input the food you’ve eaten, so you can accurately balance the two. Or at least try to.

Blimey, there are loads! Which one should I choose?

Many of the devices work in a similar way, tracking activity using inbuilt accelerometers and syncing up via Bluetooth to your smartphone via a branded app, and often able to share data with compatible third party apps such as My Fitness Pal. But some add a little more, be it heart-rate tracking or simply looking different. Here’s a rundown of a few contenders well worth considering.

If subtlety is your desire, Misfit Shine (£79.95) does the job. It’s a great activity tracker, with a magnetic attachment so you can wear it anywhere, even under your clothes, or on the wristband provided. It’s also waterproof, so if swimming is part of your day’s activity it can log that too.

Fancy a wristband, but think flaunting your data looks ugly? The screenless Jawbone Up 24 (£129) is always connected by Bluetooth and could be for you. The Jawbone Ups are comfortable to wear and look fine in an ‘I wear wristbands from music festivals kind of way’. Ultimately, it’s a good tracker, that gives you advice as well as stats.

Then come the wristbands that constantly display your data to refer to at any point. Garmin Vivofit (£100) is also suitable for swimming, and can be paired with a heart-rate monitor. Or the Polar Loop (£79.95) is a slightly cheaper option, and can be paired with the same brand’s popular heart-rate monitor. Fitbit offers a variety of devices, and for wristwear, the Fitbit Flex (£79.95) provides activity and sleep tracking.

There is of course also the option of using that clever little pocket machine, the smartphone to do your tracking. Yes, it can nibble at your battery, but with an array of free and cheap apps available it’s easy to track all your movements (try iOS Moves) or get motivated by a running app like Runkeeper, but ultimately, the mindset, the willpower and the desire must be yours. All I can say is getting started is the hardest bit, but some of the tech may just make it that little bit more alluring.

*Unless you’re that annoying person who has signed up to Facebook and Twitter updates of your activity. Your friends are being polite: unless you’ve undergone a dramatic weight loss transformation, they probably don’t actually care.

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Written by Lara Lewington

Lara Lewington is a reporter on the BBC's technology programme, Click (BBC1, BBC2, BBC News Channel, BBC World). @laralewington