Best fitness trackers for older adults

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Regular exercise is critical for older adults, but how do you know as a caregiver if your senior’s exercise program is achieving the intended results or providing the benefits they seek? As an older adult, it’s important to keep a close eye on baseline metrics and the body’s response to […]

Regular exercise is critical for older adults, but how do you know as a caregiver if your senior’s exercise program is achieving the intended results or providing the benefits they seek? As an older adult, it’s important to keep a close eye on baseline metrics and the body’s response to physical exertion. That responsibility often falls to the caregivers, who then also act as coach, champion and cheerleader.

Thanks to advances in wearable fitness tracking technology, access to exercise and health data is easier than it’s ever been. Beyond the basic step count, you can now easily track resting heart rate, sleep metrics, stress levels and even recovery rate between exercise. In fact, a recent study found that wearing a fitness activity tracker actually resulted in more time spent exercising among older adults who wore one regularly.

When it comes to outfitting the older adult in your care with a fitness tracker, there are several things to consider:

  • Functionality: It’s important to have a clear understanding of the activity they enjoy and how many bells and whistles are needed.
  • Use: The type of activity your senior enjoys determines which devices they can use for the sake of ease of use, comfort and durability (e.g., water resistance, bright screens, etc.).
  • Monitoring: Understanding how intuitive the user interface is and how much of a learning curve is required will be critical for both you and your senior.

We’ve rounded up our favorite fitness trackers of 2022. Read more on each below, and be sure to do research alongside your senior to find the perfect fit for wearable health tracking.

I’m going to (affectionately) call this the “Apple Watch Lite,” as it looks almost identical to it and offers a similar lineup of features but at a much more palatable price point.

The Amazfit Bip S watch offers:

  • 30-day battery life
  • Waterproof up to 50 meters
  • Heart rate and sleep monitoring
  • Other features including music control, sedentary reminders, alarm clock, weather forecast, world clock and timer 
  • Integrates with any smartphone to receive calls, texts, SMS and other notifications

Things to consider:

  • While most reviews online are overly positive, the people who didn’t find value in it complained of a bright screen that didn’t ever go completely dark, sensors that didn’t work and small screen size.

The Xiaomi Mi Smart Band is the next step up in technology and price, and offers enhanced functionality for your senior.

The Xiaomi Mi offers:

  • 1.56-inch touchscreen with bright, bold graphics and a color screen
  • Step counter, five-day weather forecast, sleep habit and REM cycle tracking, blood oxygen levels tracking via a SpO2 (oxygen saturation) sensor and stress tests
  • Two-week battery life
  • 30 sports modes (six of which are automatically detected) 
  • Waterproof up to 50 meters

Things to consider:

  • While the Xiaomi screen is 1.5 inches, it’s still a small screen for a senior with poor eyesight. Make sure your senior can view and use the screen comfortably before purchasing—or if purchasing online, be sure to follow the process for returns if it doesn’t work out.

Fitbit

It’s hard to have a conversation about wearable fitness trackers without mentioning this brand name. Fitbit has a strong foothold in the market due to its smaller design and reliable technology at a much lower price point than smart watches like Samsung, Apple and the like. Our favorites from their full product lineup include:

“Jewelry gets smart” with the Luxe, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to compromise on technology. The Luxe offers the same capabilities as its counterparts like:

  • 24/7 heart rate tracking to measure rate and calories burned
  • Active zone minutes
  • Stress management tools
  • Sleep tracking and sleep scoring
  • Daily readiness score to monitor whether your senior is ready for another day of activity or needs to scale back or rest another day
  • 1.5-inch watch face with a sleek design and color display
  • GPS integration for real-time pace and distance data

Perhaps one of the best smart features of this tracker is that it senses when the wearer might be experiencing irregular heartbeats and can send alerts upon signs of Afib while still or sleeping.

Perhaps a more masculine version of the Luxe, the Charge 5 offers the same functionality of the Luxe in a more athletic design, at around the same price point.

  • 1-inch screen size (which could cause visibility issues for those with poor eyesight)
  • 20 exercise modes
  • Personal goal setting
  • Real-time heart health stats to help you keep the pace or maintain your target heart rate zone

The Versa 3 is Fitbit’s mid-range fitness watch that offers a larger screen and more enhanced features like:

  • Built-in GPS with workout intensity maps that track where you worked hardest during exercise
  • Smartphone integration that allows calls, texts, voice assistants and more
  • Waterproof up to 50 meters
  • A fast-charging, six-day battery

Similar to the Luxe and Charge 5, the Versa offers tracking for steps, calories burned, sleep, oxygen and stress levels, active zone minutes and real-time GPS.

Apple released its first smart watch in 2014 and since that time has produce four new models (or “generations”). It also offers five different versions now, ranging in price from $199.00 to $399.00 (unless you also count the Hermes, which runs a cool $1,229).

Apple Watches offer:

  • iOS-integrated to provide regular updates, an intuitive user experience, a sleek design and support from Apple’s Genius bar associates for training and repairs
  • Integration with Apple phones, which enables phone calls, text messages, notifications, reminders, social media and more
  • Apple Fitness+ app integration, offering exercise videos/tutorials for a variety of sports and activities, guided meditation, playlists and more for $9.99 a month

The best Apple Watch for seniors, in my opinion, is the Series 6, which includes an always-on display, fall detection, ECG and SpO2 monitors, and allows you to set fitness goals and listen to music straight from your watch.  

There are a million ways to customize your Apple Watch, especially on Amazon, so my suggestion would be to sit down with your senior and shop together. Have a conversation about their preference in style, color, fabric, display size, etc. and pick one they’ll feel comfortable in that’s the best budget fit.

Things to consider:

  • The benefit of the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking capabilities, from my experience, is convenience. I often wear my Apple Watch during the day so it’s an easy transition to exercise mode when I need it. And I like that it tracks my activity and health stats without having to record an official workout; it just works in the background and alerts me when it’s time to stand up or how far I must go to reach my exercise goals for the day.
  • PRO TIP: If you’re shopping on Amazon, you can find refurbished watches at a much lower price point than brand new. Just look for the word “(renewed)” in the headline.

The Android-friendly version of the Apple watch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch4 offers comparable technology and features at a similar price point:

  • Body composition analysis, which offers readings on body fat, skeletal muscle, hydration, metabolic rate and BMI
  • Sleep and oxygen level tracking
  • ECG monitoring and Afib alerts and notifications
  • 6 activity modes
  • VO2 Max tracking (which measures how much oxygen your body can absorb and use)
  • Integration with Google services (including Google Pay) and phone functions like calls, texts, SMS, calendar alerts, etc.

Things to consider:

  • There’s some debate online regarding the durability and reliability of these watches. Several users complained of the technology not working and the watches overheating.
  • I personally tried out a Samsung watch several years ago and experienced many malfunctions myself, including a battery that lasted only an hour at a time.

Garmin

The pinnacle of wearable tracking technology for runners, Garmin has held the top spot for competitive distance athletes for two decades. As a competitive runner, Garmin has been my running watch of choice for the last 10 years (after testing countless other brands) because of its accurate GPS technology, easy user interface (both on the watch itself and in the app), workout and record storage and its sleek design.

Today, Garmin offers six different watches and 40 versions ranging in price from $199 to $899 to meet the needs of athletes across different sports and at all stages of training—from beginners to world-class athletes. Below are a few I’ve used:

The Garmin Forerunner completely changed my training for the better. With the most accurate GPS technology I’d ever used, the longest battery life, in-workout notifications and lap recording (that actually worked), I quickly became a convert.

The Forerunner today offers superior technology, including:

  • 12 days of battery life in smartwatch mode; 26-hour-long battery life in GPS mode
  • Morning reports that show you a review of your sleep, recovery and training outlook
  • Heart rate variability while you sleep, giving you a more comprehensive view of your health (versus a basic heart rate monitor)
  • More than 30 activity modes
  • Workout recommendations based on past performance, recovery and weather data
  • Garmin Pay, so you can leave your wallet at home
  • Cross-training workout recommendations

A less sophisticated performance-focused watch, the Vivoactive is my current watch because of its lightweight, easy-to-read screen and built-in music player.

The Vivoactive offers:

  • Battery life of up to seven days
  • 20 activity modes
  • Pre-loaded workouts with animated instructions
  • Garmin Pay functionality
  • Energy monitoring that helps you understand which time of day is best for exercise
  • Oxygen level sensor
  • Stress, hydration and respiration tracking
  • Sleep and heart rate monitoring
  • Safety and tracking features that sends your location to emergency contacts if your watch senses an incident occurred

Things to consider:

  • Garmin watches are the best smartwatches for the more serious athlete, and I could write for another page about all their features, bells and whistles. If your senior enjoys endurance sports – or if they (or you) want a deeper view into their health, the impact of their workouts, and suggestions from industry leaders on workouts and training programs – this is the watch for them.
  • The learning curve on Garmin technology is pretty steep, so be sure to do your research and plan to spend some extra time setting up the watch, the app and educating yourself and your senior on how to use their new watch.

Choosing a fitness tracker is a very personal process that takes into consideration many factors. It’s important to work alongside the older adult in your care to find the right fit, function and fashion for their new device, and then make sure you and they are educated on how to use the activity tracking technology to reach your goals.

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