Fitness: Activity trackers

By Rob Virtue on July 26, 2014 9:13 AM |

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From a decline in mental health to a risk of heart disease, the evidence against sitting still for too long continues to stack up, writes Laura Williams.

But where exercise is concerned, every little really does help, so you don't need a five-day-a-week gym habit to get results.

And with a new generation of activity trackers providing real time information on everything from calorie burn to sleep quality, moving more and eating less just got scientific.

The Benefits

You'll see how much incidental activity adds up. If you've ever doubted that getting off the bus a few stops early counts, being able to see how quickly those steps become miles is a great incentive.

It was a revelation to me to discover that a five-mile run was 10,000 steps but a day at Kew Gardens was 25,000.

You become more aware of calories in vs calories out. Most of the popular trackers provide info on how many calories you've burned, which is a good reality check and can help dispel the "I can eat whatever I like now I've exercised" theory.

Sleeping patterns are often tracked and having this done can be useful - you can compare sleep patterns to your food diary to see if there's a link between, say, sleepless nights and late night eating.

Trackers will prompt you to do more via a daily goal. There's something about having activity data at your fingertips that acts as a great motivator if you haven't moved enough. Even if you feel exhausted, if the tracker indicates you need to move more, that can often be enough to get you out the door.

■ Garmin Vivofit, £99.99

Garmin's Vivofit is the GPS company's first entry into the activity tracking market. Not as cute as some of its competitors, it's nonetheless a product which does what it says on the tin.

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Pros: Watch batteries mean battery life is up to a year; it has an inactivity meter that works well as a visual nudge if you've spent too long in sloth mode and it's waterproof.

Cons: It's a bit functional looking; there's an absence of a backlight so it's hard to read in the dark and there's no nutrition or diet tracking.

Go to maplin.co.uk.

■ Nike+ Fuelband SE, £89

No ordinary step measuring for Nike - the snazzy looking band uses a "fuel" metric for your daily activity scoring points that are then reported via the footwear brand's smartphone app.

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Pros: It does have good screen info.

Cons: It's not waterproof, has a short battery life and future support for the Fuelband uncertain.

Go to store.nike.com.

■ Jawbone UP24, £124.99

This is lightweight, nice looking and extremely popular. Alas the Jawbone UP24 sacrifices info for style so you can't see at-a-glance stats from the band itself.

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Pros: It's got a long battery life, excellent sleep tracking and looks good.

Cons: There are no on-demand stats, it doesn't sync with all phones, it's not fully waterproof and it's also dearer than the competition.

Go to amazon.co.uk.

■ Misfit Shine, £79.95

The lovely looking Shine is a little aluminium disc that fits into both a sports band or a specially made Bloom necklace.

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Pros: Its appearance - the Shine is great looking and can be worn anywhere on the body. It also has a long battery life. Cons: There's no screen as such and it only works with Shine app - there's no web app yet. It's also easy to forget it when you change outfits.

Go to amazon.co.uk.

Exercise intensity is often not clocked. The big criticism of most current trackers is that they don't register different types of movement.

Even though most use a finely-tuned algorithm, this counts steps taken, which will often miss many valid activities and won't take into account exercise intensity.

You need an appetite for apps too. If you're looking to lose weight, you're better off sticking to a model that enables you to track calorie intake and syncs with apps such as MyFitnessPal. The new generation of trackers don't come cheap as a rule either, so if you're not goal-orientated or motivated by data, think again - you may be better off spending your money elsewhere.