Your smart(er) fitness companion

Fitness and activity trackers have come a long way and now offer new advanced features and deeper health and fitness insights than ever before.

Starting with basic functionality like step counting, calorie consumption, sleep tracking and wrist-based heart-rate tracking, these devices have evolved over the years to now include a range of advanced health and exercise tracking capabilities.

When combined with advances in back-end system development and updated algorithms, active and health-conscious individuals can seamlessly integrate broad, informative data sets into their daily lives.

This information, presented in easily digestible formats via smartphone companion apps and web-based dashboards, offers significant opportunities to improve our health, fitness and performance.

We take a look at a few of the more recent advances in activity and fitness tracker technologies and explain why they matter….

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Electrodermal activity sensors

Electrodermal activity (EDA) sensors can help you track and manage stress by measuring electrodermal activity responses.

Devices like the Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Charge 5 detect small electrical changes (the technical term is Galvanic Skin Response) in the sweat level of your skin, which can help you understand your body’s response to stressors and better manage your stress when this data is uploaded and analyses via the companion app.

These skin temperature sensors can also detect changes in skin temperature that may potentially indicate a fever, illness, or the start of a new menstrual phase.

Wearing your device continuously throughout the day also allows the system – device and app – to regularly measure skin temperature variations to track trends.

The Fitbit Sense also allows users to perform an EDA Scan via the device. This function measures your body’s response during activities including meditation or relaxation. The EDA response graph provided afterwards on the device and via the app can help you gauge how are improving your stress management.

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Stress management tracking

Devices like the Fitbit Sense combine multiple data points such as your heart rate, sleep score, and activity level data to rate how your body is responding to stress.

Presented in the Fitbit app, scores range from 1-100, with a higher score indicating your body is showing fewer physical signs of stress. The score is coupled with recommendations to better manage stress, like breathing exercises and other mindfulness tools.

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ECG app integration with heart-rate tracking

Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors measure your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity, which is combined with other continuous heart-rate monitoring data to rate cardiovascular health and possibly identify potential conditions such as a sinus or irregular heart rhythms or atrial fibrillations (Afib).

These ECG sensors may help prevent serious complications like stroke by allowing users to spot warning signs from their wrist. Devices including the Fitbit Sense and Apple Watch Series 7 currently offer this functionality.

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SpO2 sensor

Sp02 sensors send and receive a light beam through your skin and blood vessels to measure the oxygen saturation level in your blood.

This information is generally shared via a companion app to provide insights about general wellness and fitness but users should not rely on these sensors for any medical purpose.

For example, the Fitbit Charge 5 features a relative SpO2 sensor, which powers Fitbit’s Estimated Oxygen Variation Graph in the Fitbit app and may indicate variations in your breathing during sleep.

Various devices now offer an Sp02 sensor, including the Huawei Watch GT2e, Apple Watch Series 7, Garmin Vivoactive 4 and Fitbit Luxe.

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Smart activity tracking

Pushing a button to start your workout is so last season. That is why devices like the Fitbit Charge 4 and Fitbit Versa 3 offer SmartTrack® automatic activity tracking.

This feature automatically recognises when a user gets active or starts exercising and tracks it. SmartTrack can even identify specific activities, including running, walking, outdoor biking, elliptical, various sports, and aerobic workouts.

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Active Zone Minutes

Recommendations from various global health organisations state that we need a minimum amount of activity each week to improve our health. Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes feature provides a personalised standard for tracking activity beyond steps that measures time spent in each heart rate zone.

The app uses this data to encourage wearers to spend time at different levels of exertion based on their age and fitness (as measured by the watch).

Ultimately, the aim is to help you track moderate and intense activity and promote sufficient activity to reach the weekly recommended goal of 150 Active Zone Minutes to help improve your health.

Smart sleep tracking

Devices like the Fitbit Versa and Xiaomi Mi Band 4 automatically track the time you spend in light, deep and REM sleep stages and provide insights via the companion app about your sleep quality and duration against recommended targets (usually represented as a sleep score). Advanced in-app features can also provide more personalised recommendations.

Additional smart sleep features on various devices include Smart Wake, which wakes wearers up at the ideal time based on the sleep cycle to help you feel more refreshed and well-rested. Fitbit’s Smart Wake feature uses machine learning to wake you at the optimal time.

Readiness score

Your device can also help you decide how hard you should hit your next training session. Fitbit’s

Daily Readiness Score and Garmin’s Body Battery calculation combine multiple tracked metrics such as heart rate variability, current sleep score, cumulative fatigue and previous activity levels to determine how ready you are to work out.

For instance. Fitbit Daily Readiness (for Premium subscribers) helps users understand if their body is ready for a workout or if they should prioritise recovery instead.

Female health tracking

Devices like the Fitbit Versa, Ionic and Inspire 2 make it easier to track your menstrual cycle with the female health tracking functionality.

This feature can help women better understand how their menstrual cycle connects to their overall health.

Functionality includes logging menstrual cycle data and symptoms to track your cycle, inform your health and life planning, and help share important details with your doctor if needed.

And Fitbit’s proprietary cycle algorithm, which gets smarter and more accurate the more you log your period, offers dynamic cycle predictions to help you predict what’s to come.

Activity tracker benefits

  • Fuss-free tracking: Most modern activity trackers automatically detect activity type, letting you transition easily from one daily activity to the next without any fuss or hassle.
  • Realtime feedback: Receiving direct feedback on how many calories you burnt, how much you moved, and how your heart rate fluctuates throughout the day can help to better inform training plans to make them more effective. It also creates better knowledge and awareness of your body.
  • Motivation: Getting a regular reminder to move more and more often from your device is just one of the ways it can motivate you to get more active. Online challenges with others in digital communities formed around these tech platforms can also be powerful motivators to remain active.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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