Self-tracking devices. Digital personal examinations on the go. Wrist bands, waist wraps. Their names, shapes and sizes run the gamut. What is for certain is the tremendous surge in the use of fitness- and activity-tracking technology over the past couple of years. No doubt they will be coveted items under the Christmas tree this year.
I've worn one daily for the past 10 months and when I go to various meetings and gatherings, I find myself comparing devices with colleagues, friends and family.
Increasing interest is being generated as well around a larger variety of smartwatches and even athletic clothing embedded with health-monitoring technology.
Trackers may help improve sport performance, maintain a healthy weight or change daily activity patterns. The simple act of measuring and monitoring can influence behaviour. On average, people walk about an extra 1,500 steps a day if they use a tracker and become more aware of how much or how little they actually move during a typical day.
Activity monitors tend to have a number of common features, including measuring steps and the intensity of activities, estimating calories expended and getting a sense of sleep duration and quality.
Many of these devices link with smartphone apps and websites to provide a dashboard of physical life with added functionality to set goals, connect to social networks and obtain rewards for reaching new targets.
And generally, the accuracy of popular activity monitors on the market today is good, particularly for step counts over even terrain.
I find my tracker can also reliably capture more intensive activity, such as a run on the street or jogging on a treadmill.
The estimates on calorie expenditure are more variable, however, and the trackers differ across a number of other factors, including wearability, display, activities tracked, feedback provided, heart-rate monitoring, battery life, inclusion of incentives and social-networking capabilities and price.
There are many options for aesthetics, monitoring, display and types of activities.
If you want a simple, comfortable device at a reasonable price, I would suggest the Fitbit.
If you'd rather not have to plug in your device every few days and are willing to pay a little more, then a Vivofit would be a good choice.
If you like to be in the water, a Misfit or Vivofit would work well. Finally, if you need monitoring of heart rate and oxygen level, then a Withings Pulse O2 might be the right choice.
The optimal choice is the one that you will actually wear on a regular basis and helps you get moving and stay active.
Here are some of the activity- and fitness-tracking devices to consider (prices will vary) if you are in the market:
This device is unique in that it is an armband worn on the upper arm. It records steps, calories, distance and sleep, making use of sensors for temperature changes and movement. These devices were judged in a 2014 study to be the most accurate tracker for estimating calories burned ($90 to $120).
Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Charge
This suite of devices measures steps, distance, calories and sleep. There are multiple models to choose from, including ones that can clip on a pocket or be worn on the wrist in a lightweight and comfortable rubber wristband. The displays may show actual step count or dots representing progress toward a daily goal. These devices sync wirelessly via computer or smartphone and have a Web interface with social-networking opportunities. The user can earn badges for achieving milestones ($60 to $140).
Jawbone UP and UP24
Reported to be the most attractive design among the trackers, this device looks more like a bracelet than a gadget. It tracks your steps, calories and sleep, and can alert you when you've been inactive for a predetermined period of time. The UP and UP24 do not have a display on their own, so immediate feedback does not occur ($110 to $160).
Looks like a fashionable watch on the wrist and can also be worn as a clip or a pendant. Measures steps, calories, distance and sleep. An added feature is that it can be worn while swimming ($100).
Withings Pulse O2
This device's display shows steps, altitude and sleep and can be worn on the wrist or on a pocket or waistband. Downloads and tracks data via smartphone and has a couple of unique features: It measures pulse and estimates blood oxygen levels. The latter could be helpful if you were living with an underlying heart or lung condition but isn't necessary for most people ($120).
The nice, simple display is always on, showing step count, distance walked or time of day. One of the Vivofit's main selling points is its one-year battery life. This means that, unlike many other fitness trackers on the market, the Vivofit does not need to be charged every few days. The device can also be worn in the shower and while swimming ($150).
Nike FuelBand SE
Tracks steps, estimates calories burned and also quantifies expenditure of "Nike Fuel" – presumably a composite measure of activity and intensity. The solid band is different from other trackers. Visual displays and Web interface are also featured. It can set optional reminders to get moving if you've been sitting for too long. It needs a USB connection to upload information (around $150).
Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.
Dr. Paul Oh is medical director and GoodLife Chair of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Toronto Rehab, University Health Network. A leading expert on the role in rehabilitation, he has studied exercise interventions in a variety of patient populations. Current research focuses on how exercise affects cardiovascular health and on ways of optimizing exercise interventions. He does not have any financial relationships with any of the manufacturers of the devices discussed in this article.