At the end of last summer I bit the bullet and jumped on the Fitbit Bandwagon. I surprised myself a little bit because I have long been a person who found the whole concept of pedometers and 10,000 steps just random and uninspiring. Plus, I just wasn’t that into tracking how much I…walked, you know?
As a CrossFitter I track my benchmark workouts, my lifts, my CrossFit Total. As a fitness enthusiast, I keep a workout calendar. All are things that show progress! So what was the point of tracking how many steps I take each day, I though — BOOOOOOOORING!
But then last year I kept reading about all of the data the Fitbit provides. And really, if you must know, I find metrics super-de-duper exciting. If something can be measured, I WANT TO DO IT! And I found all of this out at a time in my personal life where I felt like things were out of control and I wanted to get them in check. Obviously, I needed a baseline.
I had gotten a new job, I felt a little chained to my desk, I was exhausted all of the time, and my food intake was unstable and really not super satisfying. (This happens when you feel chained to your desk, don’t eat lunch, and then are too tired to cook a good dinner.) The data that the Fitbit provided sounded like it may help me in most of those areas, so I took the plunge and picked one up.
Fitbit One Basics
The easiest way to describe the Fitbit One is to call it a pedometer, but it actually does so much more — which we’ll get to. Let me tell you about the device itself first. It is about half the size of a chapstick and it easily attaches to your bra (my preferred method), belt or your pocket via a silicone clip. I’ve found the clip to be very durable so far, considering it’s in use all day, e’rrday!
Additionally it comes with a soft velcro band that you slide the device into at night and attach to your non dominant wrist for sleeping. The sleep band has not been quite so durable for me, but (as I found out) I am a pretty restelss sleeper, so that could be why. So far my very advanced sewing skills have helped me keep this band in tact (that was my sarcasm font) and luckily the Fitbit website sells replacement bands for like $10 on their website, so it’s not that big of a deal. This may be my only critique though.
The device comes with a tiny LED display which will advise you of various pieces of data when you press a button, it has a USB dongle for wireless syncing to your computer if you prefer to get your info that way, or it syncs wirelessly via Blutooth with your smartphone. (Yep, there’s an app for that!) I don’t really consult the LED screen for data much because it’s attached to my bra all day and that would be awkward. But I do look at my app all day long to get an idea of what my activity looks like. So hey — let’s talk about that.
So What Does It Actually Measure?
On a basic level, it constantly counts the number of steps you take. So is it a really expensive pedometer? No, I promise. Along with steps, it also provides altimeter readings that track when you climb stairs or hills. (And for the record, I do not find that box jumps at CrossFit screw up my Stair reading.) In addition, it measures how long you sleep (assuming you put it in sleep mode when you go to bed, which is super simple — I prefer doing it through the app) which includes a measurement of both the minutes you wake up in the night (which I find startlingly accurate) as well as the minutes you are restless.
This is an example of how terribly I sleep in hotels. Have I mentioned that 2013 was the year of work travel? UGH
This has been one of the most eye opening parts of owning the Fitbit for me. I used to think “Oh I got 8 hours of sleep because I was in bed from 10-6 each night. But it turns out, many nights I’m restless or I am awake, and all of that eats into your actual “sleep time.” Some nights I am in bed for 8 hours, but I only get close to 6 hours of restful sleep. Of course some nights I am very cognizant of all of those variables and actually do get a good amount of sleep. And hot damn is it satisfying to see that in graph form!
So haven’t all of this info isn’t just fun and pretty to look at. It has helped me experiment and troubleshoot what causes some of that restlessness (confirmed: DEFINITELY caffeine after noon) and just to generally be aware of how much sleep I am working with and tailor my day as such. I once hear working out when you get less than 6 hours of sleep does more harm (to the adrenals, hormones etc) than it does good. Monitoring the restfulness of my sleep has helped me even be more effective with my workouts, I think.
Hey Wait — It Does More???
In addition to all of that, the Fitbit also syncs with My Fitness Pal. If you haven’t used My Fitness Pal, it’s actually kind of an awesome app/website. It’s a general food/activity tracker and while I loathe the idea of counting calories, I do enjoy checking in with my macro nutrient ratios every once in a while, and I like that the two devices sync up. Important Note: the info only sycs from My Fintess Pal to the Fitbit, not the other way around, so I use MFP exclusively for tracking. (Here’s a great tutorial on how to reconfigure the MFP goals, because honestly the carb/fat goals are RIDICULOUS. I don’t think you need to change them to “low carb” in the tutorial, but the standard ones MFP uses are out of control, IMHO.)
How I Use It
So clearly it does many things I have found useful, but let’s get back to the baseline. When I purchased it, I spent a couple weeks just wearing it to determine what sort of patterns of activity I had going on. Surprisingly, being chained to my desk only had me taking about 4000 steps per day and 0 stairs. I wondered how dramatically low that was, and on the first Saturday when I just ran my regular errands, cleaned house and worked out and clocked in almost 20,000 steps — I knew. My inactivity during the work was dramatic. So I set out to get in 6,000 steps a day next. Then I worked my way up to an 8.000 step goal. Slowly but surely I am making progress.
After that I focused on stairs a bit. We don’t have stairs in our house so the only place I can walk those regularly is at work (or as I’ve recently discovered if I run bleachers at our local high school, which is actually super fun! Well, you know “fun.”) But I have the opportunity to go about 6 flights per day just because of where I park/where my desk is, so I became determined to do that. Then I realized I could walk a few extra and hit 10 a day. Now I think about that often.
Most recently I made a goal I call #Operation50 where I try and make sure each week I’m walking 50 flights of stairs and going 50,000 steps. It’s arbitrary, yes — and I’ll continue to tailor it to a goal that is challenging, but it’s really kept me motivated to stay active at work, which is SO SO SO IMPORTANT TO ME. I don’t want to work the next decade only walking 4,000 steps a day 5 days a week, you know? I’d like to actually have some hip flexibility when I’m 80!
*When I first got my Fitbit, I had a few close calls where I couldn’t find it and had to go digging in my hamper. To keep that from happening to you I’d suggest getting into a routine of when you put it on, take it off. I put a cute little dish on my nightstand and basically if my Fitbit isn’t on my body, it is in this dish. I never put it anywhere else. It may sound militant, but the habit has kept me from throwing a $100 piece of electronics in the washer.
*Make your own goals. When I first got my Fitbit, knowing that generic “Get 10,000 steps per day” advice had me really wanting to hit that goal. When, day after day, I wasn’t even coming close to hitting it, I got a little unmotivated. But then I realized — hey, you are looking for trend improvement! Not to just hit an arbitrary goal. So I spent a couple weeks doing a baseline. Getting an idea of what was realistic for me. Then challenging THAT number. It’s been so helpful.
*Look at your goals from a weekly perspective, rather than a daily perspective. It’s helpful to look at the macro picture as well as the micro picture of each day. It can help keep that feeling of data overwhelm/demotivation from kicking in.
*And the last one may be TMI, but I’m just going to tell you anyway because we’re all friends here: If you are putting it on your bra and you have sensitive skin like me, maybe change sides every once in a while or that stuff’ll leave a mark!
My Overall Recommendation
Obviously, I love this little tool. It’s been eye opening for me in so many ways. It tracks data that confirmed for me areas that, if they improved, would contribute to my overall health. The interface is easy to use, there are many ways to access the information (iPhone, Computer, the device itself) and it helps me identify overall trends in my health/fitness/activity level. Plus it’s just convenient and fun. Toooooooooootally better than a plain old pedometer, right?
It is around $100, which to me is expensive for something if you don’t use it. But I think the ease of use, relevance of the information and motivation that tracking all of it yields makes it well worth the price. But the price fluctuates on Amazon — I think when I got mine it was about $87, which I’ve found to be super competitive — so keep your eye out there.
I know lots of you already have Fitbits. Any additional thoughts to give someone who was considering buying one?