They look really sporty and cool and futuristic strapped on to the wrist or clipped to the belt or shoe. But are fitness wearables worth the money you spend on them? Do they do all that they say they will do, including helping you lose weight? Or are they just a case of overdependence on technology?

Brands such as Garmin, Fitbit, Withings, TomTom, Mi Band, Jawbone and others bring us a range of wearable products geared to help people get fitter and healthier. They keep track of various types of physical activity, heart rate, sleep, number of steps taken, distance covered and so on. There are high-end wearable devices that have GPS tracking functionality, which track various activities like running, swimming, rowing, etc, that don’t require your phone to work. Many of these offer reasonably accurate measurements of body fat and muscle percentages as well.

Then there are cheaper devices that need to connect to a smartphone to function and record the number of calories burnt, fitness metrics, sending notifications, etc. There are also hybrid smart-watches with built-in features such as pedometers and more. While many of these devices go around the wrist or need you to use a chest strap, some wearables can be clipped on to waistbands, shoes, pockets and so on.

Advantages of fitness wearables

Studies have shown that wearable devices could actually help you live longer. The main advantage of using a fitness device that you wear or clip on is its motivational aspect. It helps set goals, and offers an assessment as to how well you have worked towards achieving those goals while recording your progress. This can be a great way to have some healthy competition between workout buddies, to stay confident and to push oneself to stick to the plan.

You can get a real idea about how active you are in a given day. You can set yourself long and short-term goals. You can work towards achieving those goals in terms of number of steps taken, distance covered or calories burnt. Fitness wearables measure your heart rate so you know if you have a healthy resting heart rate and the rate at which your heart beats when you exercise. This way, you know whether you should be cracking things up or slowing things down during a workout. These devices can tell you when you slow down, speed up, go up or down a slope, measure your workout’s difficulty level and more.

Fitness wearables also help you track sleep – an important indicator of good health. The thing on your wrist measures how long and how well you sleep so that you know exactly how much shut eye you get during the day. The device also counts calories for you so you can compare the number of calories burnt with the number consumed to determine the all-important caloric deficit. So, by giving you a lot of information about your daily activities, these devices do in fact help you with your wellness or weight loss goals.

Also, it has to be admitted, a lot of these things look really cool and stylish. All the gym types seem to be sporting these smart wristbands and clip-on devices. So perhaps this may be just the thing one needs to get active and off the couch?

Disadvantages and limitations of fitness wearables

Reviewers of fitness wearable devices often claim certain inaccuracies in aspects such as the heart rate monitors and the pedometers built into them. Even some of the high-end devices are reported as being somewhat inaccurate. This brings up the problem of reliability. If displayed metrics such as your heart rate, distance covered and calories burnt are not accurately shown, you may not be sure how effectively you’re meeting your fitness goals. The problems are even more serious for someone with, say a heart problem, relying on a potentially inaccurate heart rate monitoring device.

Wearable devices offer information and hopefully the motivation that one needs to get up and make the effort to lose weight and become healthier. The individual still has to make all the actual effort of exercising, making healthier food choices, portion control and so on. No device, however advanced, can snatch the calorie and preservative-laden snack out of your hand or make you exercise for the requisite amount of time.

Critics of wearable devices also claim that all these functionalities are readily available via smartphone apps; that there is no real need to waste money on a separate device. The issue of having to carry a phone along with the device for it to work is another frequently pointed out limitation. Most people don’t want to head to the gym or out for a run with multiple devices (with an activity like swimming it may not even be possible).

Some health coaches also point out that a user tends to get so preoccupied and focused on completion of the set targets that they begin to ignore the actual joy of playing the sport or lose the experience of a great workout session. It is deemed unfortunate that we feel satisfied only after the gadget ratifies that we have had a good workout session, when our bodies can tell us the same thing only if we were to pay attention. Instead of listening to our bodies, we rely on tracking by numbers.

The point is that wearables can only do so much for you; all the effort made and restraint exercised has to be your own. Experts also point out that several deficiencies persist; wearables have lots of scope for improvement right now. Some strong voices feel this is just another example of overdependence on technology and that being constantly preoccupied about one’s health is indeed unhealthy.