(*All views expressed in this post are my own and simply the raving of one lazy woman’s newfound obsession with this wearable fitness accessory.)
For the past six months, I have traded in my elegant wristwatches for a less fashionable Fitbit Charge HR. True, this hasn’t been the most aesthetically-conscious decision I’ve made, what with it’s plastic face and matte black rubber wristband and all, but it has been a heathy one.
A few months into wearing the Fitbit, a friend noticed the swap I’d made and asked me if I was just into the tracker because it was a fad or because it genuinely provided value, and I responded that it was the latter. While there is certainly a novelty factor involved, I had noticed that I had grown quite fond of my new accessory, and it all boiled down to one thing: motivation to get moving.
As those of us who are not good at the whole fitness thing know, a big part of keeping up with goals is holding yourself accountable and keeping track of progress. No, this does not mean constantly checking your weight on the scale because fitness shouldn’t be about the numbers. You could be gaining weight in muscle by working out while trimming down the fat. Numbers can be misleading. There are certainly those “off” days, especially for us women, when monthly bloating can tip the scales against our favor. Therefore, I am not advocating an obsession with numbers. As a marketing analyst though, I do believe in benchmarking.
To be fair, I don’t know what value, if any, a Fitbit brings to those people who already enjoy working out and are disciplined enough to make it part of their daily routines. But for me, it motivates me to move because it provides awareness, accountability and a social component that creates friendly competition— necessary for those who need an extra nudge to get off the couch. This accessory has become a tool to build better habits.
Before I had the Fitbit, I didn’t have a true sense of how many calories I was burning or how much my exercise contributed to that. It was too easy for me to say that I had rigorously run for 10 minutes or walked for 30 minutes to justify the nachos or post-lunch chocolate chip cookie that I would scarf down.
Now, however, I see just how hard it is to burn off calories, even while running. I think twice before reaching into the cookie jar. I’m not a calorie counter, and I understand that the “calories burned” according to the Fitbit may not be 100% accurate, but at least it gives me a good idea of how active I’ve been and provides me adequate pause before indulging.
The opposite is true too: I realize now how some physical activity that I wouldn’t have previously thought of as exercise— an evening out dancing with friends, frantically cleaning the apartment or even going for a stroll after lunch at the office (I walk faster than normal people do) — can be enough to get that heart rate up and can count toward “movement” points. It’s not that I use these activities to justify consuming more calories , but it’s encouraging to know and motivates me to choose to walk along the Atlanta Beltline with friends or go to Zumba instead of meeting friends for dinner and drinks on the weekends.
Furthermore, I am now also aware of other metrics that I hadn’t tracked before, like my heart rate and sleep patterns. I understand that no wearable is entirely accurate, so perhaps my heart rate is actually lower or higher than the Fitbit reports. However, it provides a benchmark. Over time, I can start to gauge what activities or behaviors increase or lower my heart rate, or track my restlessness at night and average hours slept. This awareness is helpful when I want to choose what kind of exercise I want to do one day, or when and how I need to wind down for bed the next day for work to be fully rested. For instance, I know now that jogging at a steady, sustained pace gets my heart rate up higher and for longer than alternating fast sprints with walking, so when I want to get in a good cardio workout, jogging at a steady pace is better. Similarly, the Fitbit has clearly shown me how a night of indulging in a cocktail shoots my heart rate up higher than simply enjoying a cold brew or glass of wine. I knew this at some level before I wore the Fitbit, but now, with the numbers right in front of me, it’s hard to deny the facts.
Bottom line: You can’t work to fix a problem until you know and admit what’s wrong in the first place. The Fitbit helps me do that.
Before my Fitbit, it was easier to skip a class at the gym, but thanks to this gadget, which comes built in with a tracker of how many days I’ve exercised each week, I have my laziness staring me right in the face. The device can automatically pick up some forms of exercise like aerobic sports, running, cycling, etc.
In this way, the built-in sensor gives you the awareness of what you are doing— but the dashboard and goals give you an idea of what you should be doing. For instance, I wouldn’t have known or cared before that, on average, I should be getting in 10,000 steps a day, and I would have been fine exercising a couple times a week. But since I hate seeing numbers in red, it’s enough to get me moving to meet those goals.
I also love how the Fitbit encourages you to get up and move every hour of the working day. I would have previously been fine punching away at Excel spreadsheets at my desk before, but now, since the Fitbit encourages me to meet my daily goal of moving once every hour (250 steps per hour), I’m more inclined to get up from my desk more often. It’s not enough to go for ONE stroll in the afternoon. To decrease stress, improve blood circulation, posture and energy levels, study after study shows us it’s good to get up more through the day at regular intervals.
The Fitbit, like all other apps these days, has a social component. You can connect with other friends who have a Fitbit and challenge each other to goals.
This is one of the biggest motivators for me. When I see myself slipping to the bottom of the rankings, I feel compelled to go for a run or go to step class, and my, does it feel great to move back up through the ranks.
One weekend, a friend challenged me and others to a “weekend warrior” challenge in which you have to beat your friends in taking the most steps over the weekend. I had completely forgotten about it until Saturday evening, when I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday, a slice of cake in hand, and received a reminder notification from the app. You’d better believe I jogged and went to step class the very next day to make up for steps I’d lost just to avoid coming in last place. (For those of you at the top of the list, seriously, what are you doing??)
Finally, there’s the implicit competition against myself, thanks to the aforementioned awareness and accountability. Some weeks, I just want to beat a previous week’s performance.
Ultimately these three components— awareness, accountability and competition— have helped me develop better habits, which I feel is the point of fitness accessories in the first place. Perhaps once I’ve made these habits a true lifestyle change, I’ll be able to ditch this bland wrist wear for something sexier, but for now, I’ll give up the fancy bling for this shiny beacon to better health.