Whether you’re an athlete or someone who just wants to lead a healthy lifestyle, fitness trackers are handy gadgets that can help you monitor your day-to-day physical activities. Most fitness trackers claim they can measure your heart rate, how many steps you take in a day, the quality of your sleep, and even the number of calories you burn on a daily basis. But how accurate are most fitness trackers, and should you rely on them?
In this article, we’ll discuss how fitness trackers work and how accurate they are. Additionally, we’ll go through some of the best and most reliable fitness trackers available on the market as of 2022.
Table of Contents
How Do Fitness Trackers Work?
Fitness trackers are small devices you wear on your wrist, and they measure various fitness-related metrics. They’re designed, not only for athletes, but for anyone who wants to improve their health through physical activity. Most fitness trackers can estimate travel distance, energy expenditure (how many calories you burn), heart rate, sleep quality, and more. Some can even be used to count swimming laps. They help you keep track of your health and fitness, provide you with daily insights and reports, and give you the motivation to exercise regularly.
Fitness trackers are also handy when you want to monitor your progress. For example, if you want to take 10,000 steps a day, your fitness tracker can help you reach your goal by telling you how many more steps you have left. It’s also possible to use your fitness tracker to count how much water you drink on a daily basis.
When you first set up your fitness tracker, you are required to enter certain information regarding your physical condition. Apart from your age and gender, your fitness tracker will ask you to include basic information like your height and weight. The more information you provide about your basal metabolic rate, the more accurate the device will be. The next step is to set your goals, whether they’re related to how many steps you want to take or the number of calories you want to burn each day.
Fitness trackers can measure various fitness-related parameters thanks to their built-in sensors. They use accelerometers to track body movements in all directions. Note that you can usually specify what kind of activity you’re currently doing (e.g., walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, exercising, etc.), so the tracker doesn’t get confused about the movement statistics. The sensors can measure other factors, such as the duration, frequency, intensity, and acceleration of your movements.
When it comes to your heart rate, fitness trackers use green LED light sensors to estimate how fast your heart is beating. This is possible because blood can absorb green light. They also use accelerometers to determine how long you sleep. These types of sensors can detect when your body moves and when you are still for a long period of time, which is how they measure your sleep.
Note that fitness trackers can’t estimate everything, which is why you need to enter a lot of information manually. For example, if you want to measure how many calories you burn every day, you need to enter information about the food you eat throughout the day manually. This is usually done on the smartphone app, which is linked to the tracker. You’ll be able to view more detailed information and statistics on the mobile app. This is especially handy if your fitness tracker has a small screen or no screen at all.
Should You Rely on Fitness Trackers?
Now that we’ve explained how fitness trackers work, let’s discuss how accurate they really are. Fitness trackers are extremely useful, but their accuracy depends on a number of factors.
Not all fitness trackers have the same number of sensors or the same types. High-quality, reliable trackers, contain a lot of sensors, allowing them to collect more information about your movements. In other words, the more sensors a fitness tracker has, the more accurate the reports will be. It also depends on the data you provide about your metabolic rate.
For some metrics, your fitness tracker can provide you with very reliable results. For others, it may be wise to use other methods or devices to monitor your physical activities. Let’s take a closer look.
When it comes to measuring your sleep schedule, fitness trackers may not always produce accurate results. They use accelerometers to monitor how long you sleep since these types of sensors can tell when your body is still for a long period of time. If you lay down to read a book or watch TV, your fitness tracker can also perceive this as sleeping.
Some fitness trackers use sensors to measure your heart rate, which slows down when you fall asleep. However, the only way fitness trackers can measure sleep in a way that’s 100% accurate is by monitoring your brainwaves or eye movement, which isn’t currently possible.
Paired with motion sensors, fitness trackers can measure how many steps you take fairly accurately. However, they produce more reliable reports when your pace is fast compared to when you’re walking slowly. People who need a walking stick to move would not be able to count on reliable travel distance reports.
Note that movement is best measured around your hip area. For this reason, if you put your mobile device in your pocket, you’ll notice that it’s much more accurate than your tracker. Since fitness trackers go around your wrist, they measure a wider range of bodily movements, which have nothing to do with walking. Arm movement can typically be interpreted as walking. To make sure the reports are more accurate, wear your fitness tracker around your non-dominant hand.
Fitness trackers can measure your heart rate with optical heart rate monitors, which are relatively accurate. Keep in mind that heart rate sensors are most accurate when you aren’t doing anything. If you start moving around a lot or take part in a physical activity that demands a lot of strength and effort, the heart rate reports may not be accurate. What’s more, if your skin has more melatonin than the standard amount, it might prevent the green light from being absorbed.
That’s why you should only rely on the heart rate monitor when you want to see the average rate over a long period of time.
Since measuring how many calories you burn every day depends on many factors, your fitness tracker may not provide you with the best results. According to this study, there is a lack of scientific validation when it comes to the tracker’s ability to count calories burned.
Not all fitness trackers work the same way. In terms of calories, some models measure how many calories you burn when you’re working out, while others estimate energy expenditure throughout the entire day. What’s more, fitness trackers don’t take your fitness level into consideration. A person who isn’t physically active will burn more calories during the same exercise as a person who has been working out for some time. Similarly, people with higher testosterone levels burn calories faster than people with lower levels of testosterone.
The Best Fitness Trackers
There are two main factors that influence the accuracy of your fitness tracker – the amount of data you put in and the model. If you choose a high-quality model, you can receive reliable reports that will help you become more physically active and stay motivated.
Here are some of the best fitness trackers that are most likely to produce reliable statistics:
Fitbit Charge 4
You can use the Fitbit Charge 4 to measure your heart rate, sleep, and body temperature. This device is waterproof, so you can wear it when you’re swimming or taking a shower. The HR feature is incorporated in six different workout modes, and you can use it to measure steps, walking distance, calories burned, and more. It’s possible to set the tracker to monitor your heartbeats in three ways – real-time detection, automatic 24/7 monitoring, and workout monitoring.
This fitness tracker has an amazing 504-hour battery life, so you won’t have to worry about taking your charger everywhere. It has a simple interface, making it extremely easy to use. With its Bluetooth 5 technology, you can easily link the tracker to your mobile device and activate the WoFit app.
- 504-hour battery life
- Six workout modes
- HR and temperature monitor technology
- Bluetooth 5 connectivity
- Monochrome display
- Basic interface
Apple Watch Series 7
If you’re looking for a high-end smartwatch with a built-in fitness tracker, the Apple Watch Series 7 will meet all your needs. This Apple Watch model has some of the most advanced health features and a built-in GPS. You can use it to track your daily activity, monitor your sleep, and measure your blood oxygen. It has 14 different workout modes, including running, cycling, swimming, and more. Not only that, you can add new workout modes through the app on your smartphone.
Its large OLED display is durable, resistant to dust and water, and won’t crack easily. The display is actually 20% bigger than the Series 6 model. You can link it to all your Apple devices, and it even offers a family setup option. However, like all Apple devices, the Apple Watch Series 7 has a short battery life of only 18 hours.
- Built-in GPS
- Advanced health features
- Large OLED display
- Family setup option
- Instant connectivity
- Short battery life
Fitbit Inspire 2
The Fitbit Inspire 2 has a modern, sleek design, and it fits comfortably around your wrist. It has a beginner-friendly interface, so it’s a great choice for first-time fitness tracker users. This device measures your heart rate 24/7, and it offers other all-day tracking tools. It has an impressive 10-day battery, so you can take it on trips without bringing the charger. You can also wear it when you go swimming since it’s waterproof.
Once you link it to the mobile app, you will receive the offer to subscribe to a free, one-year premium trial. You can use the app’s handy tools to create step-by-step fitness programs. Considering all the useful features this fitness tracker has to offer, it’s relatively affordable.
- Sleek modern design
- 10-day battery life
- Free one-year premium trial
- All-day activity tracking
- Small display
- No on-board GPS
Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a combination of a powerful smartwatch and a reliable fitness tracker. You can use it to monitor energy levels, heart rate, sleep, stress, menstrual cycles, and more. It has a traditional round watch design for those who don’t like thin fitness tracker bracelets. Its battery can last up to eight days, and six days in music and GPS mode.
What’s also great about this smartwatch is that it can be linked to various music apps such as Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music. It gives you the option to link it to your Bluetooth headphones and listen to your music wirelessly. It can also be connected to over 20 preloaded GPS and indoor sports apps, and it comes with safety and tracking features.
- Traditional round design
- Compatible with various music apps
- Safety and tracking features
- Underwater optical heart rate monitoring
Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly fitness tracker that will provide you with accurate results, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 won’t disappoint you. This fitness tracker boasts a two-week battery life and a water-resistant 1.56″ AMOLED glass display. It fits on your wrist comfortably, and you’ll quickly forget that you’re wearing it.
This fitness tracker offers 30 activities, and it has wide compatibility (it works with iOS 10+ and Android 5+). Some of its tracking tools include an Sp02 oxygen sensor, a 24-hour heart rate monitor, sleep analysis, breathing pattern tracking, and personalized health intelligence. This device is perfect for all types of water activities as you can choose between six different swimming styles.
- Two-week battery life
- 1.56-inch AMOLED glass display
- 30 activities
- Only connected GPS
- The screen may be too small for some people
Use Your Fitness Tracker Accordingly
Fitness trackers are handy wrist-worn devices that can track various fitness-related parameters. While they offer numerous health and fitness reports, the accuracy of their stats has been called into question many times.
All in all, it’s advisable to take your fitness tracker results with a grain of salt. Even though fitness trackers aren’t 100% accurate, they’re still useful for a number of reasons. For example, if you want to monitor your progress or count how many steps you take every day, they are fantastic tools that will suit your needs. Other parameters, like sleep and energy expenditure, can’t be accurately measured with these devices.