Why a sports watch is a great investment – even if you hate sports

Garmin Instinct Esports Edition
(Image credit: Garmin)

A few days ago, Garmin released its latest feature-packed watch - one designed not for running, boating or driving, but for gaming. The Garmin Instinct Esports Edition monitors your heart rate and stress levels, and can stream them live to your audience during an intense competition.

Once you're away from the screen, sleep tracking and Garmin's Body Battery function help make sure you're taking good care of yourself and allowing yourself enough time to relax and recharge so you can stay at the top of your game the following day.

It's a really interesting idea, and shows that a fully fledged sports watch (one that does more than just simple step-tracking) isn't just useful for people whose idea of fun involves Lycra and sweat.

Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical Edition

(Image credit: Garmin)

That's something I've found for myself recently. I usually run several times a week, lead a local running club and join in regular spin sessions at the gym, but on a walking holiday a few weeks ago, I managed to break my left ankle in a pothole.

I was wearing a Garmin Instinct Solar at the time, and can testify to the accuracy of the stress tracking. "You had very few restful moments on this day," the Garmin Connect app informed me later, presenting me with a graph full of orange spikes representing my stress levels. "Remember to slow down and relax to keep yourself going."

I don't have much choice in that particular matter, but despite being designed for the great outdoors, the watch has proved surprisingly useful while I'm stuck wearing a rather stylish Velcro-covered boot.

Multi-sports watches like the Instinct and the Polar Ignite are particularly useful for sleep tracking. It's easy to slip into bad habits when you've not been active enough to tire yourself out physically. It's so easy to just sit at the computer for another five minutes, then another 10...

A basic fitness tracker might tell you how long you spent in each sleep stage, but a high-end running watch can also report how well you actually recovered from the day's exertions. That can be extremely helpful - particularly when you need to get plenty of rest to heal.

Polar Unite

The Polar Unite offers excellent sleep tracking, and is particularly comfortable at night thanks to its soft buckle fastening (Image credit: Polar)

Fitbit Sense

The Fitbit Sense measures the conductivity of your skin to determine your stress level (Image credit: Fitbit)

If you're looking for a watch to wear at night, I'd advise looking for one without a hard buckle that could dig into your wrist. The Fitbit Sense and Polar Unite have very similar designs, make almost entirely from soft silicone, and are both very comfortable at night.

Understand your mood

A premium watch can also help you understand why you feel the way you do. Many devices, including the Garmin Instinct line, use variations in your heart rate as a measure of stress (both mental and physical), and the Garmin Sense goes a step further by using the conductivity of your skin to determine how much you're perspiring, and therefore how much adrenaline is affecting your body.

These measurements are recorded in the Fitbit app, where you can also record your mood and make some notes about anything that happened during the way that might have affected how you're feeling.

Polar Grit X

Watches like the Polar Grit X offer turn-by-turn navigation that's great for cross-country running, but also useful for everyday wayfinding (Image credit: Polar)

When it comes to physical wellbeing, almost all fitness trackers can provide some type of activity alert (which in my case are a useful reminder to do my physio exercises), but devices like the Polar Grit X go much further.

For example, the Grit X offers particularly highly accurate turn-by-turn GPS navigation, which means you can find your way around a new location without staring down at your phone and making yourself a prime target for mugging.

Hopefully I'll be able to make proper use my watch's the workout tracking soon, but I've been surprised just how much I'm still getting out of a multi-sports watch while stuck at home,

If you're considering splashing out on a basic activity band, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at slightly higher end watches, too. Even if you don't use all their functions, you might be surprised just how much you can get out of them.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)