It’s February and your New Year’s resolution to get healthier you is starting to flag. If you’ve attempted to do it on your own, now is the time to join up with millions of others for a bit of friendly rivalry and community support.
But which fitness community is best, and therefore which device is the right choice? Here’s a quick rundown of what’s on offer from the big names in the UK.
Free – 48 million users
If you’re looking for a comprehensive fitness community practically anyone can join that covers running, walking, hiking, cycling, swimming and a few others, then Strava is the popular choice.
The Californian firm produces free apps for Android and iOS, as well as the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Galaxy Watches and Google’s Wear OS watches. But it doesn’t produce a device itself. Instead Strava will connect with practically any device, or you can just use your phone.
With 48 million users and 1 million joining a month at the moment, chances are you know someone already using it. And it’s the community that’s the best bit. Share your activity, get comments and a thumbs-up in the form of “kudos”, which together with personal records for distances, segments and routes, really helps to keep you going, even when you’d rather just put your feet up.
The service is free with paid-for Summit upgrades offering extended analysis, smart training or safety.
App free + subscription; devices £70 and up – 28 million users
Once synonymous with the fitness tracker, Fitbit’s strength is its community. With about 28 million users, Fitbit is one of the most social general fitness tracking apps and an excellent place to start for health-tracking beginners.
Rather than being dedicated to a particular sport, Fitbit focuses on steps, activity and general health, allowing users to join groups where they fight to be top of the leader board of steps for a rolling seven-day period. You can cheer, taunt and challenge competitors too, and earn badges you can show off for milestones and activities.
Fitbit also offers a premium £80-a-year subscription which provides personalised insights on your health as well as guided programmes for activity, sleep, workouts and running.
Fitbit’s range of fitness trackers start at £70 and cover most health statistics, including a £200 smartwatch-competitor, the Versa 2, if you’re looking for a watch. But Fitbit falters when it comes to tracking of sports such as running, cycling or other activities, with most devices lacking built-in GPS.
App free; devices £70 and up – 10s of millions of users
Garmin makes some of the very best running and multi-sport watches, plus popular cycling computers, all of which sync data through the firm’s Connect app on smartphones, the web and PCs. Connect offers masses of data, charts, training plans and analysis without a monthly subscription – perfect for those looking to step up their fitness game.
It also has general fitness tracking, including steps, stress, sleep and other bits that rival the best in the business, depending on the model of watch you have.
Connect has some social elements too, with the ability to see other friends’ activity, compare awards, records and badges, and challenge them with competitions such as the longest run or steps. There are roughly 18 million Garmin watch users, according to Strategy Analytics, with many 10s of millions more using the firm’s cycling computers. Many people with Garmin devices also use Strava or similar for their community activities, to which Connect syncs automatically.
Garmin has a large range of watches, starting at more basic fitness trackers starting at £70 under the Vivo line, running watches including the popular Forerunner series, up to multi-sport and adventure Fenix watches for hiking, expeditions and wrist-based navigation.
If running is your thing, the £250 Forerunner 245 tracks practically everything from day-to-day health and fitness to marathons, and lasts a week or more between charges.
£199 and up – 50 million users
The success of the Apple Watch over the past five years, selling in excess of 50m smartwatches, has propelled the firm to the top of the wearable fitness market.
Apple’s built-in Activity and Workout apps, which both connect to the Health and Activity app on the iPhone, are very good, but you can also install third-party apps such as Strava.
Apple’s Activity app tracks your move, exercise and standing goals, closing a series of colourful rings to show progress. The Workout app tracks a vast array of individual sports and activities, including running, walking, hiking, swimming, cycling and yoga. Then there’s the Noise app to monitor your hearing health, the ECG and Heart Rate to monitor your heart and the Breathe app to help you de-stress. You’ll need a third-party app to track your sleep, though.
You can compete with your friends using points awarded for reaching your various activity goals, send them messages and see their progress, with alerts when you’re in the lead or fall behind. Given there are so many Apple Watches out there, it’s likely you already know someone tracking their health with one.
Sadly you can’t use the Activity app without one of Apple’s smartwatches, so the choice of devices is a bit slim with the Apple Watch Series 3 starting at £199 and the latest Series 5 starting at £399.
Couch to 5K
If the idea of being social with your exercise fills you with horror, but you want some help to get that little bit fitter, be it simply to be able to run for the bus, the tried and tested couch to 5K plans are a great place to start.
There are many couch to 5K apps and plans available, but the free NHS and BBC supported One You Couch to 5K app for Android or the iPhone is one of the better options. The idea is simple: a structured nine-week plan that gradually helps you get off the couch and run a distance of 5K without stopping.
It starts off with mostly brisk walking in the first week and gently helps you build up to running for a total of 30 minutes by week nine. The One You Couch to 5K app guides you through the process with your choice of motivational trainer including Michael Johnson, Jo Whiley or Sarah Millican, or you can access the plans as a podcast.
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