How Does a Fitness Tracker Work?

How Does A Fitness Tracker Work?

In the past five years, fitness trackers have become increasingly popular with consumers. It seems that new models with improved features are released frequently while prices continue to fall. Most fitness trackers tout the ability to help users lose weight and improve their overall health by counting the number of steps taken and calories burned in a day. Many even measure the user’s heartrate in real time and claim to track both quantity and quality of sleep. But many users and potential buyers are left wondering, “How does a fitness tracker work?” and “How accurate are they?”

How Does the Technology Behind Fitness Trackers Work?

Simply put, fitness trackers work by using a variety of tools to gather data about your movements and your body combined with algorithms to interpret this data. The specific technology used to gather this data and the algorithms used to interpret it vary by manufacturer and even model, which means that two different trackers may give you different numbers.

Although manufacturers and models can vary, fitness trackers work by measuring motion. Most employ a 3-axis accelerometer that measures movement in every direction, while some include a gyroscope to measure rotation and orientation. Many include an altimeter to measure altitude; this allows the device to measure how many stairs you’ve climbed in a day or the height of a mountain you’ve hiked.

Some models include temperature sensors and sensors to measure your heartrate. Some include sensors to measure your sleep patterns by tracking your wrist movements.

These multiple sensors then measure such variables as frequency, acceleration, intensity, duration and patterns of your movements. This vast amount of data is then interpreted using an algorithm specific to the model of fitness tracker to put together meaningful measurements and statistics of your movements and health over time.

How Do Fitness Trackers Work with Smartphones?

Most fitness trackers on the market communicate data to users via a smartphone or other device. Selecting a fitness tracker that is right for you may depend, at least to some degree, on your choice of phone and the apps that are compatible with a particular device. Most fitness trackers sync automatically and easily with iPhones and Android phones. You may have trouble, however, if you use a Windows phone. Most fitness trackers have their own apps, and this is the place where you access the data that has been gathered and interpreted by the tracker. Some trackers go a step further, however, and are compatible with other apps on the market, apps that you may already use and love.

How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers?

Because the sensors and algorithms vary by manufacturer and even model, it sometimes happens that two different fitness trackers may yield different results. This suggests that while fitness trackers may give you a good overview of your movements, the data gathered and how it is interpreted may not be completely accurate all the time.

How Accurate are Fitness Trackers When Measuring Steps?

Knowing that measurements and data can vary from tracker to tracker, you may be wondering just how accurate are they when measuring steps. Most trackers are generally reliable when counting steps taken during the day. The technology has improved over the past couple of years, and newer trackers are generally quite reliable. They “know” when to dismiss a small movement of the wrist, such as when you are typing or playing a video game, and not count it as a step. Only larger movements count. However, some activities, such as a particularly bumpy car ride, may register as steps due to the amount of movement, while walking softly across very thick carpet may not register at all. Fitness trackers are fairly reliable at counting your daily steps, but they are certainly not infallible.

How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers when Measuring Calories?

Many users opt for fitness trackers because they are trying to better manage their weight. This may lead you to ask, “How accurate are they when measuring calories?” The answer to this question depends in part on you, the user. When measuring calories burned during a particular activity, a tracker’s algorithm needs information about age, weight, height and gender. These variables factor into the determination of how many calories are burned during a particular activity or across a day or an entire week. If you as a user do not input correct information, you should not expect your tracker to be able to provide an accurate reading. This means that you need to update your information as these variables change: you age or you lose weight, for example. When tracking the calories you burn, some trackers measure not only movement but also heart rate and perspiration. This means that you likely get more accurate data from trackers that include these options.

How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers when Measuring Sleep and Sleep Patterns?

While most fitness trackers are reasonably accurate when measuring steps taken and calories burned, some users continue to wonder, “How accurate are they when measuring sleep?” Many brands make claims that their trackers can measure not only how much you sleep but how much time you spend in each stage of your sleep cycle. Many experts, however, question the accuracy of the sleep measurements provided by many fitness trackers. Most trackers use accelerometers, the same sensors that track movement, to track when you are asleep. Basically, if the accelerometer is registering very little or no movement, that is interpreted as the user being in a sleep state. Some trackers even claim to measure various stages of sleep, how much time is spent in each stage, whether the sleeper is restless and how many times the sleeper wakes. Many experts caution users about trusting the accuracy of these measurements. Especially trackers of individuals with sleep disorders seem to return data that just isn’t accurate.

How Do Fitness Trackers Measure Swimming?

While many consumers use fitness trackers as fairly accurate pedometers, swimmers may wonder, “How do fitness trackers measure swimming?” Fitness trackers measure swimming much as they do any other activity—walking, running or hiking—by measuring movement and the rate of movement. Heart rates may also be measured, giving an indication of how many calories are burned. When using fitness trackers for swimming, however, it’s imperative that a tracker be waterproof, not just water resistant, and able to withstand an appropriate amount of water pressure. In fact, there are a number of fitness trackers designed specifically for swimmers. Some of these can measure rate and distance and even stroke type. Serious swimmers may want to consider a fitness tracker designed for their specific needs.

What Are Some of the Benefits and Characteristics of a Fitness Tracker Designed Specifically for Swimmers?

A number of fitness trackers are available that are designed with swimmers in mind. These are waterproof and engineered to withstand water pressure. Moov Now is one of the more useful swimming fitness trackers available, with a number of options other trackers simply do not have. Moov Now gives you useful data on your swimming but, unlike other fitness trackers, works as a virtual swimming coach, offering data and information to help you improve your swimming. Recently, Moov Now has added a smartphone app dedicated specifically to swimming which you activate before entering the pool. You’ll receive feedback on your rate, distance, stroke type, efficiency, lap times and an overall measure of your stamina. For monitoring your heartrate while swimming, Moov Now offers a small device to be worn inside your swim cap. This may very well be the best waterproof fitness tracker.

Is Moov Now Only for Swimming?

No, Moov Now is an excellent fitness tracker for many activities: walking, running, cycling and any other activities you choose. Although the Moov Now does not have as large a market share as many of the big name fitness trackers, such as the FitBit, it offers convenience and features that many others do not. The design and sizing make it particularly comfortable, especially as it needs to be worn around the ankle for running and biking, and it offers a battery that can last up to six months on a single charge.

In addition to simply gathering and data, the Moov Now operates as a virtual coach. This feature sets it apart from many other fitness trackers on the market. Runners, for example, can choose from among a variety of training plans, and a voice feature coaches runners in real time. This sets Moov Now apart from the pack of the many fitness trackers available.

Fitness Trackers Will Continue to Thrive

As technology advances, so will fitness trackers. Many consumers choose fitness trackers to monitor the number of steps they take each day, how many calories they burn and how well they sleep. Although each tracker is a bit different, there is certainly a choice to fit the preferences, both in terms of data and design, for nearly any user. We can expect this trend to continue. Understanding how do fitness trackers work can help you choose the tracker that best suits your needs.