Healthy Aging

Tech of the Month: Fitness Trackers

Sitting too much increases the risk of premature death and ailments, study after study finds. U.S. adults sit  6.4 hours a day, one recent study found, including TV and video watching and computer use. Adults age 65 and older tended to sit even longer.  Physical activity can weaken or eliminate that risk; to weaken, you need 2.5 hours a week; to wipe out the risk, 5 hours.

Still need motivation? How about treating yourself to a fitness tracker?

Senior Planet shopped around and consulted Ted Vickey, PhD, senior advisor for fitness technology at the American Council on Exercise, for advice on the options and how to find and use a tracker that works for you.

First, some options, from very low tech to bells-and-whistles:

  • Pedometer. This option requires no begging of family members to help you figure it out. Head to The day we visited, a snazzy $8 model had been discounted to $2.89. Strap it on your belt, you are in business. Basic info, but simple.
  • Smart phone double-duty.  This built-in, no-extra-charge feature was on my iPhone for quite a while, surreptitiously tracking me, before my son pointed it out to me. On my model, the icon says “Health” with a red heart. It tracks walking and running distance, steps and flights climbed. There is a medical ID where you can list age, weight, height, emergency contacts, medical conditions and your medications. It does motivate me. If your phone battery dies, so does the tracker.
  • Fitbit Charge 3. This showed up on several of those techy lists such as “The best fitness trackers for 2019.”  One of many Fitbit products, its MSRP is around $150, but sales have brought that down to $120 or so. Fitbit devices are connected to your Fitbit account on your phone, tablet or computer. This model got raves not only for tracking steps but 24/7 heart rate tracking, water-resistance and up to a 7-day battery life. You can set goals—a 2-mile walk, for instance, and you can see active minutes, calories burned and sleep information. Head over to the Fitbit store for more info on this and other models.  Pricey, but some users become, um, fanatics.
  • Smart Phone Apps. Ted Vickey often suggests apps for smart phones, easily downloadable and often free. Go to My Fitness Pal and shop around—do you want to map a run, a walk a ride? Those are just 3 of many options. If you get bored, you can try another one.
  • Apple Watch. This is Ted Vickey’s choice, though he jokes that ”The Fitbit does fitness; the Apple Watch [with its myriad features] happens to do fitness.” It’s an investment (the 4 series is about $400), but has numerous features and, well, screams ”success” since most everyone knows it’s costly. The Apple Watch 4 series monitors heart rate and workout detail, lets you set goals and choose a target pace (you get a gentle tap telling you if you have reached it).

Ted’s Tips

Before buying, consider Ted Vickey’s tips. He recently set up his dad, Fred Vickey, 83, with a Fitbit, and he loves it.

“You don’t have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars,” Vickey says. Options for tracking your activity range, as our list shows, from a simple, very low-tech pedometer to the fancy Apple Watch.

“People complain the accuracy is wrong [from device to device],” he says. He tells them: “We aren’t trying to cure cancer. If, for instance, your Fitbit is off by 10%, it’s off by 10% every day.” Don’t worry about whether your tracker is off. Focus on the activity. “You are either moving or you are not,” he says.

If you are just beginning to get active, or you’ve been taking a break from physical activity, don’t beat yourself up trying to get in that 10,000 steps you may have heard is the daily goal.  Ease in. Note your beginning effort—say 3,000 steps a day. The next week, aim for 10% more. That’s likely to keep you motivated, not limping toward the sofa. The 10K step goal is long-range.

Be sure the device fits your needs and lifestyle. For instance, ”if you are a swimmer, make sure it’s waterproof.” Look at the battery life of the device to see if it’s good enough to meet your needs and not frustrate you.

Your turn. Please take our mini survey.

  • Do you use a fitness tracker?
  • Does it make you move more?
  • How did you overcome any technology challenges?
  • What are the upsides & downsides?

Photo of Fred Vickey by Tim Vickey


Note:  May 29th is National Senior Health and Fitness Day!  Be sure to check the Senior Planet calendar for our fitness and  movement activities.  For more information, call 646-590-0615.


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