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Just How Do Fitness Trackers Work? Do The Work At All?

An increasing number of employers are offering their employees access to fitness trackers as a part of their employee wellness initiatives. So much so in fact that one of the industry leaders, Fitbit, have created a special model designed only for sale to corporate entities. But while employees usually always appreciate cool freebies from the boss, are these gadgets really helpful, and if so how do they work?

Most wearable fitness trackers are rather small and lightweight. Necessity says they have to be in fact, in order for them to be usable during physical activity. And yet despite their small stature they can all do quite a lot, thanks to just a few tiny sensors nestled inside.

But just how do fitness trackers work? How is this little electronic bracelet actually tracking the metrics it claims to? Here’s a brief look:

How Do Fitness Trackers Count Steps?

The step counter function on most fitness trackers is usually it’s most accurate–and some say most useful–function. It’s all achieved using basic motion sensors, the likes of which have been around for years, and a simple mathematical equation which turns the sensed motion into an actual step count.

How Do Fitness Trackers Count Calories Burned?

Almost all fitness trackers will offer a count of how many calories their user has burned, both as a basic guide to measure the effectiveness of the current ‘workout’ and a general motivational tool. After all, if you can ‘see’ that your extra morning walk has reaped real results in the form of 100 extra calories burned it is fairly powerful motivation to keep going the next day to burn even more. But just how is this little gadget calculating all of this?

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Measuring calories burned accurately is no easy task. The majority of devices use a combination of their acceleration sensors and heart rate sensors and some basic mathematical algorithms. Because every individual is different–and has a different biological make up–the calorie count that is displayed is not 100% accurate–a study conducted using popular trackers like Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Ultra and more found it to be around 25% accurate for most–however as a rough guide it is rather good.

How Do Fitness Trackers Calculate Heart Rate?

At the heart of every fitness tracker’s functionality is its ability to measure your heart rate (excuse the slight pun.) This is achieved by an LED sending a tiny beam of light directly into the skin which then measures the amount of light which is reflected back. The amount of reflected light will change according to how fast your blood is circulating so that it becomes possible for the device to calculate your current heart rate. Clever stuff right?

What Can You Do with All of this Data?

Having all off this data–and sometimes more including average temperature–is great, but what can you actually do with it? This is where the app that comes along with many fitness trackers comes in.

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These apps take all the numbers recorded by the wearable and turns them into progress graphs and charts, allowing you to actually see the progress you are making every day at a glance. This will allow you to determine just how effective your current efforts are and how far you might need to ‘step up’ your efforts in order to achieve your ultimate fitness goal, whether that is weight loss, improved stamina, or a combination of both that will add up–in the end – to improved all around fitness for life.

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