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The Best Activity Trackers for Staying Fit

Our roundup of the best wearable activity trackers that help you count how much exercise you are getting daily.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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Wearable Activity Trackers Help You Fit Exercise In
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Fit to Be Tried

Ever since my kids (17 and 14) were born, life has been one long quest to find "free" time for the gym. Sometimes I actually pull it off. Occasionally I even get into a good groove and go regularly. But way more often than not, life—think carpool changes, music lessons, colds and work trips for starters—short-circuits my routines. In other words, despite my best intentions, consistent gym check-ins have hovered mostly out of reach for quite a while now.

Then science pretty much proved that even a few hours per week working out didn't do much to remedy the damage done by spending entire days parked in front of my computer. I decided something had to change. If sitting is the new smoking, how do I quit? Writing is a sedentary job, and replacing my desk with a treadmill model seemed cost-prohibitive (not to mention impractical). Happily, I found a simpler and significantly cheaper solution: a wearable activity tracker.

Business has been booming lately in this product category, with the idea being to make a sport out of moving more throughout the day. A little gadget looped around an arm or wrist, or clipped to clothing, tracks your motion. Meeting goals earns kudos, virtual badges and advice on next steps. Sit still for too long and the tracker will encourage you to step it up. Syncing via social media allows for some friendly competition with friends online. Intrigued, I decided to try a bunch. In fact, when I was researching this story, I wore no fewer than three daily—and I haven't gone without one in months. Typically, I meet or even exceed my activity goals and definitely feel the difference in my clothes. Slowly but surely, my brain has shifted toward seeking opportunities to walk, run or climb stairs. Best of all, I've managed to pry off 20 pounds.

Here's a typical day, tracker-style:

7 a.m.: My wristband buzzes to alert me it's time to get up.

9 a.m.: Parking several blocks away from my office helps me squeeze in steps early on toward my daily goal. Scaling the stairs instead of taking the elevator earns a badge.

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Throughout my workday, whenever I'm physically idle for an hour or more, the wristband will let me know. In a conscious effort to avoid this reproach, I pace rather than sit during long phone calls.

6 p.m.: While dinner simmers, I do some tidying around the house, including a few trips up the stairs, then check my social networks to see how my numbers compare to those of my pals.

8 p.m.: When my smartphone syncs with my tracker, I see I'm so close to my goal that a quick walk would put me over the top. So instead of hitting the couch to catch up on email, I queue up an audiobook to listen to while strolling. I enjoy myself so much that an hour quickly passes. Goal exceeded.

Needless to say, I am very pleased. After all, a problem solved beats a guilty conscience any day.

Stay on Track

The marketplace is jam-packed with user-friendly options. Here are some that I wear regularly—or would want to.

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BodyMedia FIT LINK Armband

A newer version of the CORE model worn by contestants on The Biggest Loser, the LINK takes multiple readings from your body to offer an accurate picture of your overall energy output.

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Misfit Wearables: Shine

Tap the face twice and a halo of LED lights indicates how close you are to hitting your goals for the day. The coin cell battery lasts four months, no cables or charger needed. (Leather band sold separately, $50.)

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Jawbone Up

Futuristic-looking and ridiculously simple to sync to a smartphone or iPad—just plug it into the headphone jack. Battery lasts up to 10 days. Two thumbs-up for the ability to set an alert to vibrate when you've been idle too long. Water-resistant.

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Withings Pulse

Clip to clothing in its case or switch to a soft band at night to measure sleep. Most devices track steps and altitude, but this also takes your pulse (hold your finger to the back) to measure activity intensity. You get lots of info right on the device screen. Syncs to a smartphone or tablet.

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Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity & Sleep Wristband

For fashionistas, wristbands ($15 each) come in a variety of colors, including Tangerine, and the tracker device pops in and out. Progress displays with a simple tap. Syncs automatically and wirelessly to smartphones but works with a computer too. Water-resistant.

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Nike+ FuelBand SE

Smarter and cuter than its popular predecessor, this updated take boasts a redesigned circuit board and greater flexibility, plus it connects seamlessly with the Nike+ FuelBand app.

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Polar Loop

A stroke of genius: This waterproof cutie tracks the user's movement while swimming. Add the optional heart-rate monitor to track yoga, biking and other activities.

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iHealth Wireless Activity and Sleep Tracker

An oversize watch face makes it easy to see the number of steps taken. Syncs with MyVitals iOS app (Apple only) to set goals and track what you eat for a total-health picture.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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