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Rev Up Your Workout With Wearable Fitness Tech

by Sarah Mahoney

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The verdict is in. Here’s the number one fitness trend for the year ahead: wearable technology, including fitness trackers, heart-rate monitors, smartwatches and even clothing with high-tech tracking capabilities. So says the American College of Sports Medicine.

Fitness tech can be your buddy in setting up the right exercise routine for you and keeping your new healthy habit on track. Looking for more motivation? If you combine an affirmation with your workout—“I am strong.” “I have the power to make my job more fulfilling.” “I will eat healthy today.”—it can fuel your workouts and even lead you toward an exhilarating life change.

Today’s devices have come a long way from the clunky (and often crazily inaccurate) pedometers of the past, says Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., lead author of the survey. “They’re more accurate and more functional, which means they’re also more motivating.” 

Their growing popularity has roots in a healthy economy. “Since 2008, we saw this annual trend list dominated by lower-cost exercise ideas, like boot camp classes, group personal training, and body-weight workouts. That was all a reaction to the recession. The fact that these devices, which can be quite expensive, are so popular now shows that people are feeling better about spending money on fitness again.”

Before you buy, think hard about what you want the gadget to accomplish. Is it for exercise? Or for broader health concerns, like tracking sleep?

Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D.

Before you buy, think hard about what you want the gadget to accomplish. Is it for exercise? Or for broader health concerns, like tracking the quantity and quality of sleep? Consider comfort: Do you want it on your wrist or waistband? And then there’s style, with products ranging from super-chic to downright dorky. 

Ignore the marketing buzz and do some homework online. Many devices started out with runners in mind, which means they may not be as accurate in tracking your Pilates moves. Others don’t hold a charge as long, which can frustrate all-day wearers.

The fit tech market’s in a constant state of change, with new companies entering the wearable race and old ones dropping out. Ralph Lauren, better known for fashion than tech, was first out with the smart shirt, which tracks breathing, heart rate, stress levels and calories burned. The giant Nike has bailed out for now, discontinuing its FuelBand to emphasize other digital products.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide based on blogs and user reviews rather than evidence-based exercise research, says Thompson, who is associate dean in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “The problem is that technology changes so fast that by the time we get an academic study completed, the devices are already into the next generation.”