Michelle Smith spends her days chasing after children at the YMCA of York and York County. Despite all that activity, when the Y challenged its employees and members to take 1 million steps — more than 10,000 steps a day — she still came short of the 12-week challenge to promote physical activity.
“When I realized I was never going to reach that, I increased my steps,” she said.
It wasn’t enough. Despite reaching 17,000 steps some days, she still came 500,000 steps short of the lofty goal, but the 26-year-old said using a fitness tracker still led to increasing her activity overall. While cell phones are one way to track activity, Smith said, fitness trackers like the Pivotal Living fitness tracker she wore on her wrist are easier to use.
With just days left to check everyone off the Christmas list, a fitness tracker or GPS smartwatch might be something you want to pick up for a loved one.
Should you buy a fitness tracker as a gift?
What started with just counting steps has evolved to devices that can do everything from track sleep and water intake to miles run or feet hiked. The devices have become more advanced in recent years, so which should you buy?
First, it helps to know who you’re buying for, said Cori Strathmeyer, director of healthy living at the York County YMCA.
“I think they’re beneficial for all populations, athletes as well as health seekers,”Strathmeyer said.
Something like a basic Fitbit or Garmin Vivofit or Vivosmart, which track sleep, calories, water and steps, might be good for someone just starting on their fitness journey.
Last year, Strathmeyer gave Fitbits to everyone in her family. Since then, they’ve taken to hiking trails, competing between family members to see who gets the most steps on a given hike.
The competition, she said, is fun and a great gift for anyone looking to ease into a healthy lifestyle.
“I think it’s an awesome gift,” she said. “It’s quantitative. It can help people increase their steps and maybe log their diets or increase their water intake. I personally like measures and it’s one way for people to easily be able to track, and what could be more loving and caring than to worry about someone else’s health and well-being?”
A watch fit for an athlete
A person who participates in a lot of endurance sports already — think the friend who runs five miles a day or always seems to be cycling — could probably benefit more from an advanced GPS smartwatch said Flying Feet Sports Shoes owner Gregory Baum. The store sells athletic shoes and gear and stocks a small selection of fitness trackers and watches.
GPS smartwatches like the Garmin Forerunner, available in a variety of models, have a lot more features, but are pricey, Baum said, and should only be purchased for someone you know well.
Other brands include the Samsung smartwatch, which Smith said she upgraded to after a year of using a basic tracker. The watch integrates with her Android cellphone.
“If I’m not moving for a while, it vibrates,” she said. “It helps keep me motivated. If I notice by noon I definitely try to increase my activity.”
Baum said he doesn’t stock a lot of fitness trackers because his customers tend to already be heavily involved in a sport. They can be picked up at almost any big box store, including Target and Walmart.
However, he recently added child sizes of the Garmin Vivosmart because he thinks the devices could be used to fuel competition and interest in a healthy lifestyle.
“That might be a way to get them off their duff,” Baum said.