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Health counts

How wearable fitness trackers can help you reach healthy goals

Here it is January, and you’ve survived all that holiday eating. While some folks make extravagant resolutions (Run a marathon! Lose 30 pounds by Valentine’s Day!), for others the road to good health and physical fitness comes from a less flashy commitment to consistently eat healthier and be more active. Personal fitness tracking devices can be a tool toward reaching your goals–making it easy to know how much you’re really moving, and keeping you honest.

The basic idea behind activity trackers is that they tally how much you move–counting the steps you’ve taken, the stairs you’ve climbed, the miles you walk or run. Some are rechargeable, others run on batteries. Most are designed to sync with a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and allow you to keep a log of your activity, day by day and week by week.

If you choose, some devices will also allow you to share your results with friends and family–providing a virtual cheering section to keep moving, or in some cases, a friendly competition to see who can score the most steps walked.

Find your comfort zone
Consider how you want to wear the device. Some are wristbands (similar to bracelets or watches) and are designed to be worn all the time, while others clip on to a belt loop, pocket, or shirt. But some people don’t like the looks of the wristbands, or already wear a watch. Although they’re smaller, clip-on trackers can wiggle free and are easier to lose (or accidentally run through the washing machine).

Bear this in mind, too: fitness trackers function primarily as sophisticated pedometers. Athletes dedicated to a particular sport—runners, swimmers, cyclists—may prefer a waterproof sports watch or a different kind of device to specifically track things like lap times or pace per mile.

Check the model you’re considering to see exactly what it measures. Some fitness trackers also record heart rate, so you can tell when your workout is challenging enough or when you should pick up the pace.

Other fitness trackers also record sleep patterns, so you can find out how much you toss and turn and how long you slept deeply.

Count calories, get nagged
Many fitness trackers offer an option to connect to a Web site that allows you to log into your account and import more information. You can chart what you ate in a day and note calories burned, for example, to give a more comprehensive picture to help you manage your weight.

Some even play the role of a nag. If you’ve been sitting still too long, they will vibrate to nudge you to get up and move.

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