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A woman fastening her helmet on whilst smiling, and wearing a smart watch on her wrist

Wearable devices: the pros and cons

We all know there are health benefits of doing regular exercise, but how much do wearable devices that track our fitness really help us to reach our goals? Here’s a guide to what you need to know about health technology.

Nowadays getting ready to exercise can mean more than just having the right shoes and kit. Wearable devices – Fitbits, Apple Watches, and other digital fitness trackers – are big business. Research shows that the number of wearable devices sold annually would reach more than one billion in 2022, mostly powered by an uptick in smart watches.

If you’re interested in wearable health technology, there are many different options available. Some watches are specifically aimed at fitness tracking, others at all-round health. Devices can track movement, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, sleep and calories burned, all while notifying you of your latest messages, emails and phone calls.

While some wearable tech users love their devices, others remain unconvinced. Can smart watches really make a difference to your health? And if so, which bits of kit are best for you?

Metrics, metrics, metrics

Society Matron and Head of Benenden Charitable Trust Cheryl Lythgoe is a self-confessed wearable tech fan. “I think that they're a fabulous tool and guide,” she says. “From a health awareness point of view, they can be great in keeping us abreast of how active we're being, what our metrics are etc.

However, while wearable tech has enjoyed quick advances, a smart watch can only estimate how many calories have been burned, for example. “Remember it’s purely a guide to how many calories you've used – you've got to take it as a guideline, not as a tramline,” says Lythgoe.

Also, while some people might benefit from those estimations, others will not. “If you are very health anxious, it can make you constantly monitor, ‘what's my heart rate?’ ‘How many steps have I done?’ ‘Do I need to move more?’ If you have health anxieties or eating problems, these devices can drive that anxiety a little bit more,” says Lythgoe.

Value for money?

Wearable tech isn’t known for being cheap. Depending on what you choose, you can be looking at a price tag of £200 – £350. If you are starting a new health habit, Lythgoe suggests there may be better uses for that cash.

“If your habit is about increasing your movements, it might be better to spend your £100 or £200 on a good pair of shoes and some wet weather wear so you can get out and move in all weathers.

“If you are looking at increasing your dietary function, I'd much rather you spend money in bulk cooking some really healthy hearty food than invest in the tech. For me, investing in tech has to be disposable income and you've got to get the foundations right – this tech isn’t a foundation for me.”

Five wearable devices for health and fitness

Here’s a selection of devices available to buy (*prices as identified on 23.06.22):

Garmin Forerunner 55

For the runners

New runners will get the most from this smart watch. Features include workout suggestions, race time predictors, and even recommendations for how much rest to take after an activity.

Apple Watch 7

For those who want everything

Apple rules the roost when it comes to all-rounder smart watches. As well as monitoring your heart rate, it has apps to measure blood oxygen levels and to generate an electrocardiogram (ECG). For people who want a device that can integrate with their phone and a whole range of apps, it’s a solid bet.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

For the Android users

If you’re an Android user, this might be the watch for you. It measures body composition, including fat percentage, and has a focus on helping you achieve your health goals. It can also communicate with other Samsung smart watch wearers.

Fitbit Versa 3

For the full picture

This Fitbit model has several features that would more traditionally only be seen in high-end smart watches, including the ability to read emails and social media notifications. It has a holistic approach to health metrics, with sleep tracking and rating.

Honor Magic Watch 2

For the fitness fanatics

This smart watch appeals to exercise enthusiasts with a range of fitness modes, such as running, triathlon and open-water swimming. Additional touches, including built-in running courses that guide you through different workouts.

While watches dominate the market, wearable tech has expanded to ECG monitors, blood pressure monitors, biosensors, and even blood sugar monitors for people with type 1 diabetes. Speak to your GP before investing in any of these products, particularly as this side of wearable tech is still constantly advancing and developing.

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