Best Fitness Watch for Wheelchair Users

While we have had the Paralympic Games from the 1950s, the wearable fitness tracker industry has been quite late in focusing on the fitness and activity measuring the needs of people with disabilities and wheelchair users.

In this article, we talk about the best fitness watch for wheelchair users. If you are in a hurry, look at the snapshot below.

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Fitness Watches for Wheelchair Users

Today, with more awareness than ever, you can access almost anything that you could have done before your disability or as a physically able person.

But companies, till a couple of years back, had either ignored the fitness statistics market for the disabled / physically challenged or, as claimed in earnings updates, had no technology to accurately measure the same.

The second reason seems very unlikely and even if it were to be true, it would be because of less investment in developing that technology due to lack of a profitable market.

Having said that, leading companies have, of late, updated their fitness watch software to have options to switch to disability modes like a ‘wheelchair mode’ to cater to the needs of this market.

So, now you can not only enjoy that physical activity that you love doing, but also accurately measure your fitness statistics while doing the same, set fitness goals, and measure your basic vital statistics, all very conveniently on a screen. This will greatly help you take proactive steps toward better health.

It is to be noted, however, that you will only be registering notable physical activity on these watches if you are on a manual wheelchair and self-propelling it via the wheels.

If you are in a power wheelchair, unfortunately, there will not be any marked physical activity while riding the wheelchair, but you may still continue to complete your physiotherapy routines to register fitness data and activity.

Apple Software Updates to Include Wheelchair Use Modes | Fitbit | Others

Apple and Fitbit together control the majority of the wearable fitness product market and have been leading innovations in this area. Till 2017 there was no dedicated hardware or software for wheelchair users, the point, Apple came out with a software upgrade aimed at wheelchair users. This went a long way to foster inclusivity for the wheelchair-bound fitness enthusiasts in the ongoing fitness equipment boom.

Apple Software

Following a stealth project, within Apple, that lasted for more than a year and incorporated the first-hand experience from a lot of wheelchair users, Apple had released its latest operating system for the Apple smartwatch series, OS3.

This update has incorporated two additional modes for fitness tracking – the outdoor wheelchair: walk pace and the outdoor wheelchair: run pace.

The icing on the cake was that you would not need to buy new hardware for taking advantage of the newly released operating system; you just needed to download the latest software on your existing hardware and you are good to go! That is some upgrade!

As a user, you can key in information regarding your seat height and wheel sizes and the app measures your activity and burnt calories as per the terrain you are moving on or the kind of activity you are generating.

For example, you may be just self-propelling your wheelchair on a rugged terrain which will register more activity than wheeling on a smooth surface.

And you may be participating in an outdoor sport on a smooth terrain which may register more activity than just self-propelling on rugged terrain. Further, the apple watch can differentiate between uphill and downhill movements.

Here we have a video below featuring Apple Watch Series 5 Smartwatch.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: the best smartwatch

Others: Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi

Fitbit (acquired by Google), on the other hand, tracks wheelchair movements as steps, which are mostly the arm movements required for the manual propelling of a wheelchair.

The accompanying app has to be installed on your smartphone and you can track basic fitness statistics through it – like the distance traveled, the number of calories burnt, or a number of ‘steps’ taken.

It also lets you analyze your sleep patterns if worn throughout your sleeping time. However, unlike Apple, the Fitbit devices and accompanying software do not have a dedicated mode for wheelchair users which is a bit disheartening.

If you are in a wheelchair, I am guessing, you will not be greatly overjoyed to see the count of the number of ‘steps’ on the screen. And Fitbit does need to address this issue.

Having said that, it is still a viable product that can be used if you are in a wheelchair to accurately measure your daily activity. It also offers the Fitbit premium subscription for a deeper analysis of your fitness and sleeps data.

There are other companies, like Garmin and Xiaomi, which have the same problem as not having any dedicated feature or mode for wheelchair users, but overall, do a good job in measuring fitness statistics.

Recent Features on Smartwatches & Fitness Trackers

  • GPS for accurately tracking distance covered and speeds achieved
  • NFC (Near Field Communication) which is used for contactless payments
  • SpO2 sensor for measuring oxygen levels in the blood. This is just a reading as of now and companies do not suggest any medical condition based on this data, due to no FDA approval till now
  • ECG app to check cardiovascular health and changes in heart rates

Below, we will be reviewing a few of the latest products from these two companies which will help you proactively measure your fitness and activity.

#1 Apple Watch Series 5 Smartwatch

Released to run on the latest Apple OS 6 software, the Apple Watch Series 5 is available in 2 sizes of 40 mm & 44 mm, distinctly larger than previous models.

The watch runs on a dual-core S5 processor, much faster than an S3 processor but the change can hardly be felt by humans. However, faster processing speeds mean your concurrent apps can run faster without noticeable lag.

Pros

  • Built-in GPS for better tracking of distance traveled
  • Extremely accurate fitness statistics and cardiovascular health monitor
  • Fall detection technology;
  • Built-in compass never lets you feel disoriented.
  • Integrates Apple Pay which runs on NFC technology and lets you make contactless payments at enabled stores
  • Great processing power

Cons

  • One of the most expensive products in the market, in alignment with all latest Apple products
  • Only compatible with Iphones
  • May look a bit larger on small wrists
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  • GPS
  • Always-On Retina display
  • 30% larger screen
  • Swimproof
  • ECG app

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#2 Apple Watch Series 3 Smart Watch

This is first model which came with the Long term Evolution (LTE) technology which is a 4G wireless communication standard and lets your watch have its own cellular connection. You are right, it can operate independent of your phone. However, you have to have an Iphone to finally get this device integrated with, its just that you do not need to carry your phone everywhere.

Pros

  • Much more affordable than the Series 5 with no great compromise for features
  • GPS enabled. Compass enabled for help with direction
  • Completely integrated with your iphone to let you do most of your activities without taking your phone out
  • Just the right size of screen for many (especially the 38 mm model), with enough space for a consolidated fitness view.
  • Connected to Apple Music – gives you access to a lot more music choices

Cons

  • Can only be integrated with Iphones. Compatibility issue with other brands of phones
  • Battery life may be lower than similar products from other companies
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  • GPS
  • Retina display
  • Swimproof
  • Optical heart sensor
  • Stores music, podcasts, and audiobooks

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#3 Fitbit Versa 2 Heath and Fitness Smart Watch

Running on the Fitbit operating system 3.0, this fitness tracking device is one of the most advanced from the Fitbit stable of products. The watch has a touchscreen and you can swipe on the screen to access the different fitness tracking options. The versa has a lot of third party options which you can use to regularly change the look and feel of your watch, much like a desktop or phone theme.

Pros

  • Continuous and very accurate heart rate monitoring
  • Provides sleep pattern tracking across the different phases of sleep
  • Color touchscreen, looks much more aesthetic
  • Scratch proof gorilla glass lets you use the device a bit more freely and not worry about scratches on your new buy
  • Water resistant up to 50 meters
  • Wider screen compiles a lot more fitness statistics on the same screen, than bands or sleeker models
  • Sufficient music storage
  • Built in integration with Amazon Alexa

Cons

  • Battery life may be shorter compared to other Fitbit devices. This is mainly due the colour touchscreen. Also depends on your usage pattern.
  • No GPS for speed tracking
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  • Use amazon Alexa built in to get quick news and information, check the weather, set timers and alarms, control your smart home devices and more all through the sound of your voice (third party app may be required; amazon Alexa not available in all countries)
  • Based on your heart rate, time asleep and restlessness, sleep score helps you better understand your sleep quality each night. Also track your time in light, deep and REM sleep stages and get personal insights
  • Control your Spotify app, download Pandora stations and add Deezer playlists—plus store and play 300+ songs on your wrist (subscription required; Pandora is us only)
  • With a larger display and an always on option, your information’s always a quick glance away (always on display requires more frequent charging)
  • Track heart rate 24/ 7, steps, distance, calories burned, hourly activity, active minutes and floors climbed

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#4 Fitbit Charge 3 Fitness Activity Tracker

The model is an improvement on earlier Charge models and has more screen space to display data that increases readability. Supports a range of fitness modes which can be accessed the swiping across the touchscreen.

Pros

  • Great battery life. Often lasts 6 – 8 days with full charge
  • SpO2 sensor or pulse oxymeter, which indirectly measures the level of oxygen in the blood.
  • Fitbit pay feature for access to contact less payment
  • Provides sleep pattern tracking and lets you know the number of hours of ‘deep sleep’

Cons

  • No GPS, therefore accurate distance tracking and real-time feedback on speed are absent
  • No music storage; drawback for people who love listening to music during a workout
  • Cannot be integrated with third-party applications, therefore, a limited number of watch appearances to choose from
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  • Better measure calorie burn, understand resting heart rate & more with 24/7 heart rate tracking and a battery life of up to 7 days (varies with use and other factors); charge time (0 to100 percent) 2 hours
  • Choose from 15 plus exercise modes like run, bike, swim, yoga, circuit training and more, set a goal, and get real time stats during your workouts to see how you can keep getting better
  • Automatically record time spent in light, deep and REM sleep stages, see Activity trends, healthy insights, and personalized guidance in one place with Fitbit today. Operating temperature is -10° to 45° Celsius
  • Swim proof and water resistant to 50 meters, so you can track swims and wear in the shower; we do not recommend wearing charge 3 in a hot tub or sauna; also connect to Smartphone GPS for real time pace and distance during outdoor runs and rides
  • Stay connected to your day with everyday apps for weather and more and get called, text and smartphone app notifications on your wrist; small wristband fits a wrist between 5.5 to 7.1 inches; large wrist band fits a wrist between 7.1 to 8.7 inches

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#5 Garmin Forerunner 35

This is a top-end Garmin activity tracker with GPS and wrist-based heart rate monitoring technology and with different fitness tracking modes. This device can seamlessly connect to your phone (compatible models) and show notifications on the go.

Pros

  • GPS enabled; lets you accurately measure distance and speed of wheelchair use
  • Steps tracking, heart rate tracking, and comprehensive health and fitness statistics
  • Good option for lightly built wrists
  • Can track change in elevation; good way to tell whether you have been wheeling uphill or downhill.
  • Good option if you are a casual fitness enthusiast
  • Good battery life
  • Option to upload data on Garmin Connect and interact on fitness community

Cons

  • No music storage of its own.
  • Monochrome black and white display
  • Not compatible with some smartphones. Please check your phone compatibility before buying
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  • Easy-to use GPS running watch tracks how far, how fast and where you run
  • Estimates heart rate at the wrist, all day and night, using Garmin elevate wrist heart rate technology
  • Connected features: Smart notifications, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking and music controls (when paired with a compatible smartphone)
  • All-day activity tracking estimates steps, calories and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move
  • Automatically uploads your data to Garmin Connect, our free online fitness community where you can join challenges, receive insights and share your progress as you meet your goals

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

#6 Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Xiaomi has attempted to disrupt the fitness tracker market (like the cell phone market) by their cost-effective solution in the Mi Band 4. The band has a heart rate tracker and various modes of workout, though it does not have a mode specific to wheelchair use.

Pros

  • GPS enabled for accurate tracking of running/walking distance & speeds
  • Color display which is sufficiently bright for visibility in the sun
  • Best in the class battery life of 15 – 20 days. Battery recharges in 2 hours
  • Value for money option as a fitness tracker

Cons

  • When you sync it with your android phone, there is no feature for answering your call, you will have to take the call from your phone. You may only decline calls.
  • Less features can be consolidated on the home screen due to the size of the screen
  • The watch may count some false steps [not applicable for wheelchair users]
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  • ✔✔【Upgrade 0. 95" Color Screen】: Note: OllivanDirect is authentic seller authorized by xyloma, Please make sure you buy from OllivanDirect】Bigger screen displays a comprehensive and obvious activity information; Simply lift your wrist to view directly the time and tap the button for steps, heart rate and other activity information; And alerts you by vibration and it can display details of calls, messages or other notifications from Facebook, Twitter or WeChat directly on the screen
  • ✌【Upgrade 135mAh battery capacity】: with built in 135mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery, long battery life, Charge it once, the battery will last for over 20 days under normal use; with a skin-friendly strap Made from soft thermoplastic elastomer, and a secure locking mechanism that makes the MI band 4 comfortable to wear during low and high intensity activities
  • ✔✔【Bluetooth 5. 0 & Support English】: Download "MI Fit", Connect via Bluetooth (Android 4. 4/iOS 9. 0 phones or later) to see notifications from app messages (WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. ), incoming calls, caller ID, SMS and activity goals; Note: Currently only support Chinese, English Spanish and Russian. Before the device is paired with your phone, its default language is Chinese; If your phone language is English, then the device shows phone language regardless where you are
  • ✌【50 Meters Swimming Waterproof Smart Band】: 50M Waterproof Rating, Xiaomi MI Band 4 can work well 50m under water, which can fulfill all your daily routines, whether you are surfing, swimming or running in the rain; 5ATM (Swim or Shower in not-hot water), showing swimming time, speed, distance, calories and other data. JAKIELAX
  • ✔✔【Heart Rate Monitor and Sleep Monitor】: This fitness tracker can track your heart rate 24 hours automatically and continuously. You can check the dynamic curve chart of your heart rate throughout the day on the App by analyzing the data thoroughly such as sleep time, sleep depth and sleep awakening, driving to improve sleep quality

Last update 2021-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Conclusion

It is true, however, that you may have liked more options in this space. In fact, a few more companies in this space could drastically reduce the pricing of these products, which are still on the expensive side.

There are a few other companies that are in the process of developing and building dedicated fitness tracking products for wheelchair users and the disabled.

Hopefully, they will be launching their products soon to bring about more options for wheelchair-bound fitness enthusiasts.

3 thoughts on “Best Fitness Watch for Wheelchair Users”

  1. For an android user its truly disappointing that in 2020 there are really no true alternatives outside the apple ecosystem for a wheelchair user to track fitness properly.

    I know everything is about ROI, EBIT, revenue but come on Fitbit/Google/Garmin/Polar/Xiaomi, still steps???

    At least give us the option to mark if a user is wheelchair user, so you can do your market research which also gives us some basic human desency with recognizing our existence.

    And please give us the option to display pushes instead of steps…

  2. I agree with Peter. Being an android and wheelchair user, it sucks that I only have the option of Apple to accurately count my pushes and workouts. I like fitbit but I have to calibrate the stride to match the length of a wheelchair push and who knows how accurate it is. Fitness watch companies for android users need to get on board. We wheelchair users like to track our fitness too.

  3. Anna, Peter, I hope that the big tech companies are listening (or reading) this. In this day and age, it is sad to see that wheelchair users are limited for options when it comes to fitness watches. I guess it will take an innovative start-up to tap into this market!

Comments are closed.

About Dr. Aishwarya Joshi

I am a trained medical professional by education. I have completed my bachelors in dental surgery (BDS) from D.Y. Patil University, Pune, India and I’m currently a graduate student at University of Central Florida, USA majoring in Health Service Administration (HSA). I am working on a research for medication assisted treatment for opioid drug abuse. I am interning as an issue analyst for United Nations Orlando Chapter. I have worked as a dentist for over 2 years and I have also interned as a health administrator in Fortis Hospital, India.