Track Your Way To Better Health
Thinking of treating yourself or a loved one to a fitness tracker for Christmas? The team put six of the best to the test…
We may have just found the perfect Christmas present.
Not only do today’s fitness trackers look like a snazzy new watch, but they’re also scientifically proven to get us moving more.
In fact, those who strap a tracker on their wrist can fit in 1,800 extra steps and 40 minutes more walking a day than those who don’t, according to scientists at the University of South Australia.
But with so many to choose from, where to start?
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We put some of the latest models through their paces in time for Christmas…
BEST FOR FITNESS
Apple Watch series 8, from £419
Head of Health Lizzie Parry says: “I’ve always resisted the need for more tech in my life – and I’ve never forensically tracked my steps.
"I walk to work and aim to get to the gym four or five times a week, which is my exercise quota covered.
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"So, when I tried out the Apple Watch, I didn’t expect it to make much difference – but I was wrong.
"It does everything: monitors heart rate, counts steps, helps you set – and stick to – daily exercise and movement goals and calculates calories burned.
"You can even perform an ECG to check your heart rhythm.
"The daily stats help tailor my workouts and push me to exercise harder. It even reminds me to stand up every hour – really handy if, like me, you sit at a desk all day.
"And as a big fan of breathwork to help relieve stress, the breathing guide is a good way to wind down before bed.
"It’s also easy to sync with an iPhone and automatically starts tracking. That said, it can become addictive.
"I’ve found myself panicking when I don’t hit my goals. So, like most things in life, moderation is key.
"Don’t become a slave to it and it’ll give you the kick up the backside we all need to move a bit more, and feel better for it.”
BEST FOR STRESS
Garmin Venu 2 Plus, £399.99
Health Features Editor Ella Walker says: “The Garmin is high-tech and chic, and I found the sleep function really interesting.
"It breaks Zzzs down into deep and lighter rapid-eye movement, even reflecting restlessness caused by bad dreams on the accompanying app’s sleep graph.
"It’s also very thorough on stress, telling me to ‘calm down’ and ‘take a breath’ when my heart rate jumps up.
"The watch isn’t always intuitive. I forget to tell it I’ve finished yoga, so it records 13 hours of stretching, failing to register I’ve stopped doing downward dog.
"The calorie tracker is confusing – you don’t input diet data, so it appears to be pure guesswork.
"It also doesn’t consider gardening or housework exercise, but both make me sweat! And the move alerts are frustrating, chiming daily at 10am to tell me to get up and walk around or do some exercise, even if I’ve cycled to work, but it’s a nice screen-break reminder.
"Best of all, it congratulates you with buzzing and fun graphics when you reach a fitness goal, which does encourage me to climb the stairs and hit more steps.”
BEST FOR SLEEP
Oura ring, £227 with six months app access, then £5.30 per month
Health Writer Ellie Cambridge says: “I thought seven hours of kip and a reasonable bedtime hit the nail on the head.
"But there’s more to sleep, according to Oura.
"Bulky but light (a relief when you’re wearing it 24/7), each morning the ring’s app gives you a ‘readiness score’ out of 100, which reflects how well you slept, the previous day’s activity and your recovery.
"I began to crave my daily grade, hoping it would promise a body full of energy. It made me cross if it said the opposite of what I expected, but this little device is clever.
"If you’ve had a boozy night or a nap, it can tell, plus it clocked when I got Covid – flagging my high heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate.
"The thought of my daily grade also encouraged me to go to bed on time, rather than have another G&T with friends.
"It showed me that sleep and what I do each day are two sides of the same coin. It’s been a real insight into how my body recharges.”
BEST FOR GUT HEALTH
FoodMarble Aire 2, £189
Health & Fitness Writer Lucy Gornall says: “I’ve had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for a decade, so I was excited to give the world’s most advanced digestive breath tracking device a go.
"The small, square breathalyser connects to an easy-to-navigate app and, for two weeks, I tracked my food, sleep, stress and bowel habits (telling an app when I went for a number two was interesting!).
"Several times a day, I was also alerted to test my breath. This is where the magic happens.
"Your hydrogen and methanol levels – the gases released when bacteria in your large intestine starts fermenting food you’ve eaten – are assessed.
"Trouble arises when the gases build up too rapidly, leading to cramps, bloating and other digestive issues.
"When I ate anything dairy-based or with sweeteners, my levels spiked and I found myself bloated and gassy.
"It also knew when I needed to ‘go’ – the gas levels in my breath were significantly lower after a trip to the loo, but high beforehand.
"It is expensive, but does seem to work. I’m now far more aware of foods that cause issues.”
BEST FOR CALORIE CONTROL
Huawei watch GT 3, from £159.99
Senior Health Reporter Terri-Ann Williams says: “The multipurpose Huawei GT 3 is gorge – it’s not too sporty and the digital interface is straightforward.
"But the app isn’t that user-friendly and takes a while to navigate. When it comes to tracking calories and exercise though, I can’t fault it.
"It’ll tell you calories burned and how much rest time you need before exercising again, which is great for preventing injury.
"That said, I’m sceptical of its accuracy. There are generic settings for running, walking and cycling, but not for weights.
"You also have to physically start an exercise program on the watch, as it doesn’t automatically recognise them, which is annoying – you don’t want to be faffing with it when you’re about to cycle home from work.
"For running, it was fab. There’s no need to switch phone data on for it to show you a map of your jog.
"The customised workout plans help you work towards everything from a 5k to a marathon. Unfortunately, I didn’t rate the sleep function.
"Quite often it would register me being in bed as being asleep, which isn’t always the case!”
BEST FOR SIMPLICITY
Fitbit Charge 5, £129 with free Premium app subscription for six months, then £7.99 per month
Health Writer Vanessa Chalmers says: “This no-fuss tracker monitors steps and heart rate, has 20 exercise modes and measures stress using sweat responses.
"It reminds you to stop sitting for too long, but I found the notifications irritating and turned them off (ignorance is bliss).
"You can also set wake-up alarms, but it’s not massively high-tech – for example, it’ll notify you of a text, but not a WhatsApp.
"However, it collects lots of data and stores it in the app, which is what I found most impressive.
"It offers menstrual cycle and calorie tracking, plus activity, stress and heart rate logs. There are sleep guides, too – helping you wind down, drift off, set and meet sleep goals.
"Plus, there are workout videos to try, as well as recipes and nutritional advice. The watch can feel clunky.
"Swiping through different exercise modes, I struggled to get back to the home screen.
"And the screen is small – tricky for people with big hands, but it has a strong battery life.
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"It’s ideal if you want to get a bit healthier, but aren’t a total gym bunny.
"For a compact watch, you get what you pay for, and more if you pay extra for the app.”
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