Tracking my steps

Tracking my steps

Fitbit Flex and Step Counter

A few months ago I received a second-hand Fitbit Flex that I’d set to one side because using it was not high on my priority list. Come the start of 2019 I decided to try it out and allow myself to be surprised at whatever it could do for me.

After about 3 weeks my current feeling is that a Fitbit doesn’t really have a place in my life. Read on for my pre-mature thoughts.

My health is important to me and over the past few years I’ve been moulding an exercise regime that works for my lifestyle. Currently that means weight training (preferably at the gym but also at home) with some running thrown in. I ran regularly over a period of 2 years but cut that down to allow more weight training.

Fitbit Flex

Like most, I’d heard of Fitbit and had even seen people wearing them but I was never so enamored by them that I wanted one for myself. Still, if it could help or enhance my exercise life then it was worth looking in to.

Overglorified Step Counter?

The biggest impression I have after 3 weeks with the Fitbit is that I am now more aware of whether or not I’m taking steps to, well, take steps. While the Fitbit app has quite a few functions the device itself seems to be little more than a step counter. Granted the FitBit I have is one of the older models and perhaps newer models have added functionality but I don’t have one to compare.

Step counters aren’t new. Here is one I bought in Japan 10 years ago because I was doing so much walking I was curious how many steps I was taking.

I used both the Fitbit and this step counter at the same time. This will become more relevant shortly.

While wearing the FitBit I noticed I became quite dedicated to increasing my daily steps towards hitting that coveted 10,000 daily limit. I’d be watching a video and suddenly realise there was no reason I couldn’t walk or jog-in-place at the same time and immediately get to it. I’ve caught myself jogging-in-place in the evening just to rack up a few more steps before bedtime.

But isn’t that a good thing? Well, it depends…

All fluff, no stuff

For someone who has done next to no exercise for most of their life, counting steps may be just the way to get them started. For me, counting steps only serves to satisfy my curiosity.

Sure, getting moving does require energy and burns calories but is this the best use of my effort? Given my current goals, taking extra steps is energy spent without payoff. I’m no expert but I’d wager it’s better to allow my muscles to rest up for the next workout rather than burn energy for miniscule returns.

I have no qualms about walking. Even before the Fitbit I’d often pace to generate or develop ideas. I admit the Fitbit got me walking more but I don’t think the payoff is worth it.

Overcompensating

Steps counters can be fooled and the Fitbit is no different. The difference is that when I’m using the wristband all it takes to register a step is for me to shake my arm. And I shake my arms quite regularly because I’m the restless sort.

How much does it affect the step counter? Over the 3 week of use the Fitbit consistently counted more steps than my old step counter. On one day the difference was more than 1,000 steps! That’s quite shocking in my opinion.

Admittedly, I kept my old step counter in my pocket so it’s not a completely fair comparison. However, if the Fitbit was designed (and marketed) to go on your arm then it falls on Fitbit to make sure the step counter is accurate.

I suppose one thing the Fitbit has going for it is it’s small size. You can put it in your sock and get what could probably be the most accurate step count of all provided you’re not a leg shaker like me.

One last thing to note is that the app allows you to specify which hand you’re wearing your Fitbit on (dominant or non-dominant). I don’t know what magic Fitbit does to calculate the steps. For what it’s worth, I used my non-dominant hand.

It also makes julliene fries

For those who didn’t get the reference

Based on the step counter, the Fitbit app can automatically track your “Active Minutes” i.e. the time spent actively exercising. Like the step counter, I found it over-estimates because it added to my active hours on days I wasn’t exercising. I guess I normally lead an active lifestlye.

The Fitbit app allows you to manually track some other things: your weight, exercise, how well you slept the night before, the food you eat, how much water you drink and what it calls “female health”. None of these require the Fitbit device and it’s functionality that can be found in other apps.

Perhaps more importantly, the Fitbit app provides access to the community of Fitbit users. You can access the user forums, take on challenges and receive guidance from their coaches. I did not avail myself to any of these services but I wouldn’t under-estimate the role of the greater community in helping one achieve their goals.

Final Notes

Gamification works. It just does. I was actively trying to increase my step count but for me that wasn’t part of my exercise goals.

There is something to be said about the novelty factor. I can almost feel a draw to wearing the Fitbit eventhough it doesn’t suit my needs (Fitbit would love to hear that). I can’t deny that I like wearing it because it makes me feel like I’m taking actual action towards better health. But feeling that I’m doing something useful is not always the same as actually doing something useful.

What would really have me consider using the Fitbit on a regular basis is a heart monitor. I know there are devices out there on the market right now that do just that. Maybe I’ll look into them.