Every Thursday, Svveat Stories managing editor Lindsay MacAdam tackles your most pressing fitness questions—this week, is it all hype or do you really need to invest in a fitness watch.

It seems like everybody’s obsessing over step counts and heart rates these days, and I’m over here all bare wristed, not really knowing if my workouts are effective. Give it to me straight: Is it time I caved and bought a fitness watch?
— Bare-Wristed Bachelorette

Apple Watch Nike+Listen, Bare-Wristed Bachelorette: The short answer is no, you don’t need a fitness watch. People got along just fine before their existence, and they’ll continue to long after these gadgets are replaced by something else. Just because you’re not tracking your workouts doesn’t mean they’re any less effective. And besides, there are other ways to monitor your progress that don’t involve interrupting savasana to check if your burned calories will justify that post-class burrito you had in mind.

Are there upsides to the fitness watch craze? Absolutely. It’s really quite fascinating to monitor your activity from day to day, and this knowledge can certainly help motivate you to become even more active. But don’t be suckered into thinking it’s an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, because it straight-up isn’t.

If you’re thinking about getting a fitness watch but aren’t a sure what type to choose, here’s a breakdown of the general offerings:

  1. Fitness tracker: These relatively basic wrist companions offer a whole lot more than your old-school pedometer, but how accurate their measurements really are is still up for debate. They are available at a low cost, and they include some pretty neat features like sleep tracking, activity tracking, smart alarms and calorie counts, with long battery lives and accompanying health apps that integrate your personal data.
  2. Multisport/running watch: Monitor your distance, calories burned, pace, laps and more on these weather-resistant workhorses that are equipped with built-in GPS and heart rate monitoring for accuracy. Then plug it into your computer post-workout to capture and analyze all your hard-earned data.
  3. Smartwatch: These gadgets are the newest on the market, the coolest in terms of what they’re capable of and also the most expensive. A smartwatch will wirelessly connect to your phone, play music, display text messages and emails and provide incoming call alerts, in addition to tracking your heart rate, speed and distance during all physical activity—it’s basically an extension of your smartphone. If receiving text messages on your wrist sounds like more of a nightmare than a benefit, or if you’re a serious athlete who values detailed stats (and that automatic laps feature) above all else, then you’ll probably want to skip the bells and whistles of a smartwatch and go with something that’s fitness-specific.

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If you’re still hesitant to commit to a fitness watch, here are some tips that can empower you in your choice to keep that wrist free from the confines of a rubber sport band:

  1. Did you know your smartphone is tracking your steps/distance whenever it’s with you? It is! So stick it in your purse when you go for walks and watch those step counts rack up in your phone’s built-in health app.
  2. If you’d rather leave technology out of your fitness life altogether, start tracking your fitness by time spent rather than numbers on a device. Maybe your goal is to do some sort of purposeful exercise for 30 minutes every day, or maybe it’s to go for a brisk 45-minute walk every lunch hour. Whatever it is, it’s most important to have a goal in mind that will keep you motivated and accountable.
  3. Monitor your effort the old-fashioned way. You don’t need a pricey watch to know whether the exercise you’re doing is getting your heart rate up. You could check your heart rate manually before, after and during your workout sessions to get an idea of how much effort you’re exerting and how quickly you’re recovering. Just place your first two fingers on either side of your neck until you can feel the beats, and then count them for one minute. Alternatively, gauge your effort by your breathing and your ability to talk while the exercising.

Have a fitness question you’d like us to answer? Email us at stories@svveat.com or ask us in the comments below.

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