Do fitness trackers really work?

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The Jawbone Up is a popular model.

The gym rats have gone gadget-happy, with a slew of devices that measure, track and analyze workouts. And the latest generation of products, wristbands like the FitBit Force and the Jawbone Up24, go beyond the gym with features that measure wearers’ sleep cycles.

For folks looking to lose a few pounds, celebrity trainer Kira Stokes says fitness trackers can be a huge help, but she also warns that they should support and reinforce a healthy lifestyle — not rule it. “Whether your goal is to burn a certain number of calories a day or walk a certain number of steps, for people who need that extra motivation, they’re definitely helpful,” Stokes says. “But it’s not 100 percent accurate, so you have to take the knowledge that they’re giving you with a grain of salt.”

Inaccuracies and flaws are part of the game as technology companies of all types try to cash in on the latest fitness craze. FitBit has come under fire after users reported allergic reactions to the material of its FitBit Force wristband, and a 2013 study from the American College of Sports Medicine showed that several tracker models and brands did not accurately measure calories burned in mid-level strenuous activities like cleaning or standing. Cycling, as well, is not registered by many of the wristband fitness trackers, according to the (relatively scant) research that has been done on the devices.

The only real way to make sure you’re getting enough exercise is pretty simple: Move often. And, as Stokes points out, make sure the tech you use to do that is a tool, and not something you rely on.

The right rewards

Indiana University found that subjects wearing fitness trackers walked 16 percent more steps than a control group, and lost weight. Seeing the steps one takes is a major incentive, but Stokes says that it’s important not to reward yourself with extra food.

 

Some of the biggies

Nike+ Fuelband

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The Nike+ Fuelband has many features other fitness trackers lack: a screen that tracks pace, distance, time and calories. For heart rate tracking, athletes must wear the Polar Wearlink+, a chest strap.

 

FitBit Force

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Though some people have reported skin irritations, the FitBit Force has a screen, a sleek design and allows users to track their food consumption with an accompanying app.

 

Polar wristband

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Polar was the first widely used heart rate monitor, which makes it popular, in particular with athletes already using its apps and online tools. This wristband is also waterproof (as opposed to water-resistant).



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