The Ultimate Guide To Health And Fitness Tech In 2020
PC Magazine|January 2020
Whether you’re just getting started counting steps or training for a triathlon with the help of technology, here’s exactly what you need to amp up your fitness routine this year.
Jill Duffy

Google will pay $2.1 billion for Fitbit, according to announcements from both companies last November. Fitbit has been around only since 2007, but it’s a star in the fitness-tech world. It’s hardly the only one: Garmin, a company founded in 1989 and once known for GPS devices, saw 28 percent growth in its fitness division from the third quarter of 2018 to the same period in 2019. And just a few years ago in 2015, fitness clothing maker Under Armour bought MyFitnessPal, a free app that does little more than let users count calories. The price: $475 million. There’s big money behind fitness tech—and for good reason.

The market for fitness technology is vast, strong, and growing. It encompasses everything from weight-loss apps to socks with built-in running sensors. Fitness tech has gone mainstream, as wrist devices incorporate heart rate monitors, step counters, and sleep-detecting technology. Your bathroom scale can now check your heart health, and your full-length mirror can use augmented reality to become a virtual exercise class.

I’ve reviewed lots of products in all these categories; here’s a comprehensive overview of what I’ve found to be the best assists for your health and fitness.

FITNESS TRACKERS

Fitness trackers are at the heart of the fitness technology movement. They have broad appeal; practically anybody can use them. And you can extend a fitness tracker’s capabilities by connecting it to other devices and apps. But their main appeal is that they can create a snapshot of your physical fitness at any given time—how active you are, your weight fluctuation, your resting heart rate, how many calories you consume. When you can see and understand your lifestyle, you’re better empowered to make healthy changes.

At the most basic level, fitness trackers count how many steps you take each day, like an old-fashioned pedometer does. They’re more accurate than pedometers, however, because they use accelerometers, gyroscopes, and sometimes GPS to identify steps and motion. So what does your step count tell you? Mainly, how active or sedentary you are. The number of steps you take in a day doesn’t really matter, but the average number of daily steps you take over the course of a year can indicate whether you need to be more active.

Most trackers also estimate how many calories you burn in a day based on your height, weight, gender, and activity level. Most of them also double as sleep trackers. Some have heart rate monitors built into them, too. And fitness trackers can record exercise activities such as running and yoga, to measure how long you did the activity, how many extra calories you burned, and (sometimes) your heart rate throughout the exercise.

How do you view and make sense of all these numbers? With a companion app, of course. There, you can add information such as what foods you eat and your weight, blood pressure, and in some trackers, the phases of your menstrual cycle. Having all this information in one place helps you see what areas of your lifestyle you might want to improve. Do you get enough sleep? Do you move enough? Is your weight stable? What’s your average resting heart rate?

Examples of trackers that do a little bit of everything are the Fitbit Inspire HR and Fitbit Charge 3, both excellent options for first-timers: They’re easy to use, and it’s easy to read the data they collect.

For those interested in a full-fledged smartwatch that also includes fitness tracking, the Apple Watch Series 5 (which does just about everything except measure sleep) or Samsung Galaxy Fit are the best options. With a smartwatch, you get apps and a lot more functionality, such as the ability to send text messages from your watch. But one major disadvantage is battery life. The best fitness trackers can last a week or more, but smartwatches usually need to be charged once a day.

For runners, cyclists, and anyone else who’s already invested in fitness, the best option is a runner’s watch that doubles as an all-day fitness tracker. You can track your pace, PRs (personal records), and other advanced metrics for running (or whatever your sport) while counting steps and calorie burn throughout your day. Garmin makes some of the best watches in this category. I’m especially fond of the Forerunner series. The $199 Forerunner 45 tracks advanced running metrics and all-day fitness. The more expensive Forerunner 945 ($599.99) has storage for music, so you can stream a playlist while on a run. The 945 also tracks bicycling and open-water swims, making it a great option for triathlons.

SMART SCALES

Looking at the number on the bathroom scale can change the tenor of your day. Weighing yourself and tracking your weight is as much a psychological game as a matter of health and fitness. With a smart bathroom scale, you can weigh in without having to look at your numbers... or at least delay it until the time is right. The best scales sync your weight, body fat, and other metrics wirelessly to an app or web account, where you or your health care professionals can look at them later.

A really good bathroom scale measures more than just weight. It also captures body fat, bone density, water percentage, bone mass, and sometimes even heart rate. The Withings Body Cardio does all that, and it can report the day’s weather forecast, too.

Many of the big names in fitness tracking offer scales that sync your weigh-ins to the same app you use to track your steps and activities. For example, Fitbit makes the Fitbit Aria 2 smart scale; Garmin and Polar make bathroom scales for their apps as well.

But you don’t necessarily need a scale made by the same company for it to work with your other health and fitness devices. For Apple Watch users, any scale that works with Apple Health will do. The QardioBase 2 is one example: It’s a fantastic scale with a beautiful design, and it has a switch that lets you turn off impedance measurements, making it safe for people who are pregnant or have implanted electrical devices, such as pacemakers.

HEART RATE MONITORS

If you’re serious about fitness, you need a heart rate monitor (HRM). They’re usually either chest straps or watch-style devices, and they read your pulse while you work out. (They’re not meant for monitoring your heart rate 24/7 for medical purposes while you’re inactive. For that, you should look for a heart rate monitor that’s FDA-approved or the equivalent in your country.)

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