Wearable Fitness Trackers vs. Phone Apps for Seniors

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Written by Brian Sweet

Wearable fitness trackers and smartphone apps have become increasingly popular tools used by people to monitor their health and fitness.

Both a wearable fitness tracker and a mobile fitness app collate, log and displays data about your activity and certain health metrics over time.

The over 50s, in particular, have started using these devices to lead a more active lifestyle and take care of their well-being. We’ll look at the differences between wearable fitness trackers and phone apps and help the more mature make an informed decision.

What Is A Wearable Fitness Tracker?

A wearable fitness tracker is an electronic device worn on the wrist, embedded in clothing, or attached to shoes and measures various physical activities and biometric health and fitness data.

These trackers gather essential health information about the wearer, such as heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned.

They are equipped with sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes that provide feedback to the wearer.

The data collected by these devices are synced with a phone app or web application, where users can track their progress and set fitness goals.

Wearable fitness trackers are available in various shapes, sizes, and styles and are designed to cater to different types of activities.

Some devices cater to specific sports, such as running, cycling, or swimming, while others offer general fitness tracking capabilities.

Wearable fitness trackers provide a simple, yet effective way for seniors to monitor and improve their physical activity and overall health.

What Are Smartphone Apps?

Phone apps are software applications designed to perform specific tasks on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. They have become integral to our daily lives and continue to transform the way we interact with information.

Although it was a comic belief that the older you were, the more ignorant you were of new technology, smart devices have become more and more a part of the over 50s’ kit. Studies show that there is still a reluctance of new tech amongst the older generation.

Originally it was to communicate with family and friends, as well as a source of vital information. Phone apps have become ubiquitous and for there are software applications that have been designed specifically to cater to the complex health needs of the over 50s.

These apps can help seniors stay informed, active, and healthy, interface with the medical infrastructure – as well as keep in touch with the kids.

And Then There’s The Smartwatch

Me with my "smartwatch" on wrist reserected from the "drawer of failures"

Whilst the fitness tracker is designed to monitor your health activity data, the smartwatch crosses the bridge between that and a smartphone. A smartwatch is more akin to having a smartphone on your wrist that can do all the activity tracking.

The Apple watch series 8 and other smartwatch devices using their own operating system from Google, Samsung and Fitbit are even able to act as a heart monitor or an electrocardiogram.

Other devices are coming onto the market all the time. We’ll delve into smartwatches and their functionality in another article.

Importance of Fitness for Seniors

Staying physically active is crucial at all stages of life, but it becomes even more important as we age. Fitness can play a significant role in maintaining our physical and mental health, boosting our energy levels, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Midlife Hacks, our website, is a persistent proponent of the importance of maintaining fitness especially as you reach 50 and beyond. Check out the benefits of Cardio here and the benefits of Strength Training here.

Advantages of Wearable Fitness Trackers

Accuracy of Data

One significant advantage of wearing a fitness tracker is the accuracy of the data that it provides when measuring physical activities.

These devices use advanced accelerometers, gyroscopes and other sensor technology to track movement and calculate the number of steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate, among other parameters. Options like heart rate monitors have been shown to be very accurate.

The data collected by fitness trackers are much more reliable than phone apps, which are prone to errors, especially when not calibrated correctly.

The sensors on a fitness tracker are designed to monitor factors like body temperature and perspiration, giving users a more comprehensive understanding of their physical well-being.

A standard fitness tracker offers continuous monitoring of vital signs, which helps seniors understand how their bodies are responding to various activities. With that information, they can adjust their exercise routine accordingly.

By collecting data over a prolonged period, wearable fitness trackers can offer personalized and actionable insights that help seniors identify trends and understand how their physical activity is impacting their overall health.

With all that being said use the health and fitness data with a large portion of common sense.

Ease of Use

Seniors who want to maintain control over their health have a choice between wearable fitness trackers and phone apps.

Using a fitness tracker is a popular choice as they are easy to use.

Unlike phone apps, wearable fitness trackers don’t require much technical know-how.

Wearable devices typically have a few buttons and a simple interface. This ease of use makes it simple and straightforward for seniors to track their fitness goals and progress.

Most wearable trackers come with a corresponding app that can be easily downloaded and paired with the device.

The app provides real-time data, which can be conveniently viewed on the senior’s smartphone.

Many wearable trackers have features that make them user-friendly for us older people who have degrading senses, such as large font sizes and simple notifications. Although for some you can’t get away from the conclusion that technology is designed for young nimble hands.

Seniors who have limited mobility may find it difficult to navigate complex smartphone applications or even remember to carry their phone, but with a wearable fitness tracker, they can easily monitor their progress without having to worry about the device slipping out of their hands.

Continuous Monitoring

One major advantage of using a fitness tracker is its ability to provide continuous monitoring of physical activity and health metrics such as heart rate and sleep patterns.

Woman holding the phone and a man alongside can't seem to figure their fitness app out

For older adults, continuous monitoring is especially important due to the increased risk of developing chronic health conditions and the need for regular physical activity to maintain overall health and mobility.

A fitness tracker provides a convenient and accessible way for seniors to monitor their activity levels, set goals, and track progress.

Continuous monitoring can help identify potential health issues early on, allowing for timely intervention and prevention of more serious conditions.

With features such as alerts and reminders, they can also help seniors stay on track with their health goals, providing motivation and encouragement to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

Motivation and Accountability

For seniors looking to stay motivated and accountable in their fitness journey, wearable fitness trackers offer a unique advantage over phone apps. These devices are worn on the wrist or clipped onto clothing, providing a constant reminder of fitness goals and progress.

Notifications and reminders can be set for daily activity targets, encouraging seniors to stay on track even on days when motivation is low.

Many trackers offer social connectivity features, allowing users to share their progress with friends and family for added accountability. This can be a powerful motivator.

Features & Function

Clearly, the purpose-made device for tracking physical activity is going to have more features than fitness tracker apps even though you have the power of an existing smart device.

Phones don’t have built-in heart rate monitors or GPS, which can be considered important for older users.

Disadvantages of Using a Fitness Tracker


In addition to the initial cost of the fitness tracker, some models require ongoing monthly subscriptions or additional fees for premium features.

As technology evolves and new models are released, older models may become outdated or even unsupported.

On the other hand, phone apps are free or inexpensive and may offer many of the same features and benefits as wearable devices.

Phone apps will often get free automatic updates.

Design and Comfort

Some users may find trackers uncomfortable to wear. In my experience, they are quite discrete and very light. My issue with the ones worn around the wrist is the discomfort that comes from intense activity and excessive sweat production.

The small size of some trackers may make them difficult to read or adjust, which can be irritating as my dad became all too aware of with his arthritic fingers.

Some are just not designed for water either from sweating or swimming.

Phone apps don’t require users to wear anything although you need to store the phone somewhere, of course.

A middle aged man stopping by a rail to check is wrist tracking holding a bottle of water

Battery Life

One of the most significant issues that anyone who uses wearable fitness trackers is the limited battery life of these devices.

Most fitness trackers last only a few days on a single charge. These devices contain several power-hungry components, including sensors, wireless technology, and displays.

The one I bought recently ran out of battery after a few days but that was with very low usage. To make matters worse it lost all the settings I had made. I had to re-input them as if it was out of the box. Really annoying – it’s sitting in a drawer now.

Some manufacturers offer extended battery life options, but these may come at the expense of other features such as heart rate monitoring, GPS, or notifications.

There is always the option of phone apps. Smartphones have a much longer battery life than and we already own a phone.

However, all apps have some limitations when it comes to tracking fitness and health metrics.

For example, smartphones lack sensors that can track activities such as sleep patterns and heart rate, which are useful for oldies like me looking to monitor our health.

Carrying around our phones during exercise may be a nuisance although there are plenty of options for carrying your phone like in your compression shorts.

Advantages of Phone Apps for Seniors


Phone apps have a range of accessibility features that make them a preferable option for seniors.

For instance, apps often have larger text and higher contrast settings that make it easier for seniors with visual impairments to use them.

Many apps have built-in voice assistants, such as Siri or Google Assistant for easy navigation. Some apps also offer compatibility with external accessibility devices, such as hearing aids or braille displays.


Phone apps can be cheap or even free. Wearable trackers can cost hundreds of dollars. Most of us already have a smartphone so there’s no extra cost for another device.

It is important to note that some apps do offer additional paid features, so the app should be carefully reviewed. Let’s face it “you get what you pay for”.


Phone apps cater to a plethora of user needs, making them versatile tools for seniors or anyone interested in tracking their fitness.

Some may prefer to track their workout or daily activity with a pedometer, while others may prefer to monitor their heart rate or sleep patterns.

There is almost certainly an app to help you achieve any health goals.

These apps can also be used on a variety of devices. Many fitness-related apps can be used offline, perfect for seniors with limited access to the internet or mobile data.

Social Connectivity

Many apps have features that enable older users to participate in virtual social events, such as video calls, virtual games, and group chats.

Phone apps can provide access to online communities and support groups, giving seniors a platform to share their experiences, ask for advice, and connect with others who are going through similar challenges.

Social connectivity features were particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disadvantages of Phone Apps for Seniors

Reliability of Data

One of the main concerns with using fitness tracker apps is the reliability of the data collected.

Smartphones may not always accurately track steps, distance traveled, or calories burned. Apps can often produce inconsistent results due to differing phone models and varying sensors.

The unreliability of the data can lead to misinterpretation and incorrect tracking.

For seniors who are using apps to monitor their health and wellness, inaccurate data can be potentially harmful, leading to incorrect adjustments in their routines or even missed medications.

Two thumb texting on a smartphone displaying fitness metrics

Ease of Use

Older people, myself included, may have difficulty with small screens and buttons or navigating complex app menus.

Older people may not be as tech-savvy as younger generations, and may not feel comfortable using electronic devices. This can prove to be a major obstacle to them adopting phone apps for fitness tracking.

Limited Monitoring

One of the potential downsides of using phone apps for fitness tracking among seniors is limited monitoring.

Phones may not have the same level of sensors that wearable devices have. This could lead to incomplete or unreliable data being collected, which can affect the effectiveness of the data.

Some apps may need to be manually activated, which may not be practical for seniors who may forget to start or stop the tracker.

In some instances, the app may need to be left running constantly, which can drain the battery life of a phone.

Overall, limited monitoring is a significant disadvantage of phone apps for older adults, which can make it challenging to gather accurate data and track progress effectively.

Motivation and Accountability

When compared to trackers, phone apps may not be as effective in promoting motivation and accountability in a person’s exercise routine.

This is because apps are more prone to distractions such as notifications, social media, and phone calls.

Many seniors may lack the self-motivation needed to consistently use a phone app to track their fitness goals or may not fully understand how to use them.

Unlike fitness trackers that you wear, apps do not provide a constant reminder to stay active and on track.

Tracking devices help older people gain a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, as they are directly linked to a device that they can sense and observe.

They can track their progress in real-time, improve their physical awareness, and monitor their performance. This process results in a sense of accomplishment that reinforces positive behaviors, helping seniors to stay motivated and accountable for their step counts or other fitness goals.

Apps for fitness tracking may seem like a more convenient option but an activity tracker provides more consistent and direct feedback, resulting in better accountability and motivation.

Seniors who struggle with self-motivation may benefit more from investing in a fitness tracker instead of a smartphone app.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between A Wearable Tracker and Phone Apps

We have written more expansively elsewhere on this topic so I’ll keep this brief.

Factors to consider when choosing between fitness trackers and phone apps for older adults include health conditions, fitness goals, budget, and lifestyle.

It is important to take into account any pre-existing health conditions, such as heart conditions or mobility limitations. Always speak with your medical professional about your plans. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to help.

Health Condition

  • Pre-existing health conditions should be taken into account when choosing fitness monitoring.
  • Fitness trackers may not be suitable for seniors with heart conditions or other medical concerns.
  • Seniors with mobility limitations or joint pain may find wearing a tracker uncomfortable.
  • Phone apps that allow manual input of activity and health data can be a better option in these cases.
  • Consultation with a healthcare provider is important to address existing health concerns and physical limitations.

Fitness Goals

  • The device or app should align with the user’s fitness goals.
  • Different fitness trackers and apps cater to various goals such as weight loss, strength training, endurance, and overall wellness.
  • Some devices provide real-time monitoring and feedback on fitness metrics, while others require regular user input.
  • Older adults looking for simple ways to stay active may prefer fitness apps with personalized workout plans and nutritional advice.
  • Seniors with mobility issues or chronic conditions may benefit from continuous tracking of vital signs.


  • Tracking devices are typically more expensive than apps.
  • Fitness apps may be subscription-based.
  • Dedicated devices provide comprehensive health data but require a higher investment.


  • Both activity trackers and phone apps aim to facilitate behavior change and healthy habits.
  • Apps track and offer advice on food and drink intake, as well as exercise.
  • Activity trackers monitor physical activity levels and provide data on rest and sleep patterns.
  • Allows seniors to view their progress throughout the day, increasing motivation and accountability.

Factors such as health conditions, fitness goals, budget, and lifestyle should be considered when choosing between a fitness tracker and apps for seniors. It is important to select a method that suits the individual’s unique needs and preferences, taking into account any existing health concerns and physical limitations. By evaluating these factors, seniors can find a fitness tracker that helps them stay active and achieve their wellness goals within their budget constraints.

Future Outlook

As technology continues to advance, the future of trackers and apps will continue to improve. The market for both types of solutions is expected to grow significantly, with an increasing number of seniors adopting these technologies to track their fitness and health.

One trend that will likely grow in the coming years is the integration of a fitness tracker and phone apps with wearable health devices, such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, and blood glucose monitors.

This will allow seniors to track their health in real time, enabling them to make more informed decisions about their well-being.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in trackers and apps will continue to improve with features such as personalized exercise and nutrition plans, as well as personalized health recommendations based on metrics such as heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns.

As more data is collected, analyzed, and utilized, fitness trackers and apps will become even more effective in helping seniors achieve their health and fitness goals.

Trackers that allow seniors to connect with other fitness enthusiasts, share their progress, and offer each other support will likely become more popular. This social connectivity has the potential to motivate seniors to stay active and engaged in their fitness routines, ultimately becoming more healthy adults.

As the population ages and technology continues to advance, the use of these devices will become more prevalent, ultimately leading to better health and wellness solutions for seniors.


After doing extensive research and analyzing the pros and cons of both a fitness tracker and phone apps for seniors, it is our recommendation that generally speaking wearable fitness trackers are more suited for older adults.


Are wearable fitness trackers easy to use for seniors?

Yes, a fitness tracker is quite straightforward for seniors. They come in a wide range of designs, with features that are easy to understand and use. Many seniors find them more convenient than phone apps since they can wear them all the time without worrying about losing their phone.

Can phone apps track fitness activity for seniors?

Yes, phone apps can track fitness activity for seniors. However, the accuracy of the data collected may not be as reliable as fitness data collected from a wearable tracker. This is because the smartphone may not be able to detect certain movements as accurately.

What are the benefits of using wearable fitness trackers for seniors?

A fitness tracker can help seniors track their fitness activity and monitor their health, which can lead to improved physical and mental well-being. Older adults can stay motivated to exercise regularly by tracking their progress and setting goals.

Does a fitness tracker have any disadvantages for seniors?

One disadvantage of a fitness tracker is that it may be uncomfortable to wear for some seniors, especially after serious exertion. And they can be expensive.

What features should seniors look for in a fitness tracker?

Seniors should look for trackers with easy-to-read displays and user-friendly interfaces. Additionally, they should consider trackers with features such as heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and GPS capabilities for outdoor activities.

Are phone apps more affordable than wearable fitness trackers for seniors?

Yes, phone apps are generally more affordable than a fitness tracker. However, some apps may require a subscription fee or in-app purchases to access all features.

Summary of Key Points

After analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of both fitness trackers and smartphone apps for seniors, as we have pointed out, both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Wearable trackers provide greater accuracy in monitoring physical activity and health measures, like step counts, heart rate and sleep quality. They are feature-rich. They can be expensive.

Smartphone apps are more limited in their features but may be easier to navigate for seniors who are familiar with smartphones. They are less accurate in activity data. They are cheap or even free.

Photo of author
Mad keen runner of old. Now just mostly mad. But mad keen on researching the best and latest fitness-related information and products for a healthier and fitter midlife. Over 50 - most definitely. Qualified in Australia as a PT in Sports & Recreation.

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