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Which Fitness Tracker Should You Buy?

Combine a highly evolved pedometer with a mini computer and a virtual coach and what do you have? A fitness tracker. These high-tech gadgets contain sensors that pick up data about your body (heart rate), activity (steps taken and calories burned), sleep, and more. This kind of insight allows you to make smart choices -- everything from ramping up the intensity of your workouts to gaining the motivation to drop extra pounds. 

With dozens on the market, how should you choose?

Mix and Match Based on Your Goals

Each device has its own combo of special features. Be on the lookout for features like these:   

Step counter. Most devices show you the number of steps you take and how many miles that equals.

If walking or running is your main exercise, this is the feature you'll use most.

Shop for devices that ask for the length of your footstep or “cadence.” They’ll provide the most accurate information.  

Calories burned. Using your weight and gender, fitness devices can calculate the calories you burn in a day. The harder you exercise and the more you move throughout the day, the more calories you burn.

Be aware, some devices only record the calories you burn during exercise. Others record activity all day, like washing dishes, folding laundry, and sleeping. 

Be sure to look for devices that ask for your weight and gender to get the most accurate results.  

Sleep tracker. A few devices track sleep. While they're not accurate enough to diagnose sleep disorders, they do give you an indicator of how much sleep you get vs. how much you toss and turn. The built-in reporting can help you spot patterns.

Getting enough sleep can help you lose weight. Too little sleep may lower your metabolism and increase your appetite.

Making sleep a priority may also lower your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems.

Heart rate monitor. Want to get the most bang for your buck? If so, monitoring your heart rate will help by gauging your exercise intensity in the moment.

This information will help you know when to rev up or slow down and recover.

Some devices even sense your body temperature and sweat to gauge how hard you're exercising.

If you have heart problems or take certain blood pressure medicines, ask your doctor if checking your heart rate during exercise is a good way to measure your exercise intensity.

Stair counter. Some devices have an altimeter to count the flights of stairs or hills you climbed.

If you're a hiker or outdoor enthusiast, you'll appreciate the data you get from an altimeter. It gives a more accurate reading of how hard you're working and how many calories you've burned.

GPS. Some gadgets have built-in GPS to estimate your speed. They also show you a map of your route.

GPS is especially helpful with exercises that the typical accelerometers or pedometers in fitness devices don't track well, like biking.

Water resistance. Some trackers are water-resistant, so you can shower with them on, but not swim.

A few specialty devices, like swimming watches, are fully waterproof. These time your laps, count strokes, and calculate speed and distance.

A few trackers combine swim tracking with bike tracking, too. They're ideal for triathletes.

WebMD Medical Reference

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