A while ago I did a post about how I got a Fitbit, and then my friend did and then another of our friends did. Suddenly, wearable fitness trackers are all the rage. People are snatching them up like candy from a busted pinata! But, like candy, there’s a few considerations when it comes to fitness trackers.
I think the thing that concerns most health & fitness “experts” is that people rely on the trackers for their calories burnt and, in turn, how much to eat. This is something I was already aware of before I got my first tracker. Having been on MFP (My Fitness Pal website) for several months, I knew that when I entered my activity into the app, the app calculated my “calorie burn” for the activity, the amount of time and the level of difficulty. Obviously, vigorous aerobics for 20 minutes burned more calories than leisure walking for the same amount of time, but one thing I heard repeatedly on the site is that the calculated calorie burn was not accurate and if you “ate back” those calories, you could be overeating.
My goal in getting the tracker was to encourage me to be more active. I wanted to see how many steps I took a day, how many “active minutes” I normally racked up in a day (sadly, far fewer of both of those than I thought! sad face), but once I saw how active I really was, it got me moving more. I’ve also noticed on my own that the tracker is far off on how many flights of stairs I climb each day. I normally avoid stairs due to the arthritis in my knees (plus one has a pin), so climbing stairs is a painful hassle for me. One day, my Fitbit happily told me I’d climbed a whopping 14 flights of stairs (yeah! One. Four. Hah!) Obviously, I hadn’t climbed even one! So this might beg the question: what’s the point if they’re so far off? Because even though I might not have been going up the stairs, I was doing something active and that’s what the little device was picking up! It’s fairly accurate (most experts agree) as far as counting steps, and because you personalize the info you load it with, like age, weight and height, when it does calculate your “calorie burn,” it’s closer to the mark than a general machine or an app, even if it’s not entirely accurate.
The best thing about a fitness tracker isn’t actually your step count, active minutes or the calorie burns: it’s the bug that makes you want to move! We all love gadgets and games and this is both. It tracks your steps and activity, so there’s always the incentive to beat your best score, plus once you add friends to your account, you get to compete with them to see who hits their goals or who gets the most steps. It’s a motivator, and motivation is something we all need at one time or another!
It’s like the Pokemon Go app that so many people have been complaining about or defending. I don’t play the game but I really don’t think there’s anything bad with making a video game that encourages people to get up and move. I think people need to look where they’re going instead of staring at their phones, but people are going to do that for texting, watching YouTube or anything else on their phones! They were doing it long before Pokemon Go and they’ll be doing it once the game is no longer the craze du jour.
I know I gave it a lot of thought before I got my first Fitbit, mainly because not using it would be a waste of money, but once I decided to get it, I just made a habit of sticking it in my pocket every day and it quickly became a habit. Just as quickly, I realized I should have spent a little more money and gotten the next model up. My first Fitbit was a Zip, and I realized the One (next model up) would also help me track my sleep, which I really need to work on. Eventually I got the One and my sister gave me a Charge HR for Christmas. The Charge also tracks my heart rate, which I think is pretty cool. [People make a lot of fuss about the fat burning zone for heart rates. It’s a lower zone, so you allegedly burn less calories but the higher percentage of those calories are fat (about 60%) and people work to stay in the lower fat burning zone. As Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) pointed out, if you burn 100 calories in the fat burning zone, 60 of those will be fat, but if you burn 500 calories in the non-fat burning zone and only 40% of those are fat, that’s 200 fat calories, so what’s the better deal here? Just an FYI.]
My point in my last post about trackers was how contagious they can be. My friend Judy had seen her doctor who encouraged her to get more exercise naturally, and she was asking me about trackers. I loaned her my Zip, which she’s had ever since, and after a while, a mutual friend of ours also got one, having seen how much fun we were having with ours. In some ways, it’s a validation of how much we get done in a day: running errands, doing housework and yard work, just being out and moving. When we come home and flop in the chair, and our Fitbit says we got 12,431 steps in, we feel a little accomplished and somewhat justified in our being tired. We got it done!!
Conversely, when we pull out our Fitbit at 3:45 pm and we’ve got a grand total of 2224 steps for the day, it’s a reminder that we’ve been sitting on our butts for most of the day and even though we may have been “busy,” we really haven’t (“binge-watching Grimm reruns don’t cut it, hon!” says Fitbit). It’s a motivator to get out and do something active, even if it’s just doing the shopping or the errands- it’s moving!
Movement really matters, and not just for the calories it burns. I’m reading Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound, which is a little scary since just sitting in a chair can cause a lot of damage to your body. Inactivity is deadly. The old cliche “move it or lose it” really applies here, so one of the nice little bonuses about Fitbits is that you can set an alarm in some models (like my One) to urge you to get up and move. They also have “chatter” which are slogans that pop up on the screen and say things like “Take me for a walk!” when you haven’t been very active.
As you might have guessed, I love my little One and if you want to take it from me, you are welcome to lean over my dead body and pry it from my cold dead hand (apologies to Charlton Heston here), but it’s true. I love checking my stats for steps, sleep and active minutes. I feel the nagging when yes, it’s 3:45 on Sunday and I’ve got less than 3000 steps (yikes!) and I feel very proud when I really rack them up (I clocked 7 miles on the Queen Mary last May- yay!) It’s the motivation that I enjoy. I like knowing that I routinely get more steps now than I did when I got my first one over a year ago. It’s progress I’m proud of. I also like that my friends are also getting more active; this is something we love to share now, though both of them put my step count to shame (and they’re 15 years older than me too! Eeek!)
So if you decide to get a fitness tracker, do some comparison shopping. I opted for Fitbit because I didn’t know a lot about some of the others, and Fitbit seemed a little more price friendly to me (code for cheaper). If I do ever get another one, I will probably get a Garmin, since my water aerobics trainer has a waterproof model she wears in the pool. (The one thing I don’t like about Fitbit is they aren’t waterproof.) But whichever one you decide to get, make sure you’re getting it for the right reasons. If you want to track your calories or energy burn or even heart rates, bear in mind their accuracy is limited. In my opinion, they function best as motivation. It’s a lot like hitting the gym or going for a walk with a buddy- it’s just more fun to do and if you enjoy it more, you’ll do it more! The more you move, the easier it becomes and the better you feel. Humans weren’t made to sit around; we were made to move! So, move it, people!