The Fitbit (Amazon UK, Amazon US) has been around a while, but has only recently started to seem like an interesting idea to Sam and I. We both need to lose some weight (ok, maybe a lot), and to get a bit more active (ok, maybe a lot more). A couple of years ago we used to be able to go for a walk and go pretty much anywhere in town, and now the hill we live on means we could probably walk anywhere, but we couldn’t get home again without the aid of a winch.
Sam has been using MyFitnessPal to help with the food side of things, and it has been going well for her. I decided to join her in using it, and we decided to both get Fitbits too.
What Is It?
It’s essentially a very clever pedometer – those things you can clip to your belt that have a vague guess at how many steps you take each day. It contains a 3-dimensional accelerometer to monitor movement, and an altimeter so it knows if you’re heading upstairs. There’s also a wireless connection to its base station that you leave plugged in to your computer, so when you get home, it can upload its data automatically.
Wearing it is easy, thanks to the design – the whole thing is the shape of a slim clip, so it just pushes onto your waistband or belt. For thicker belts, a little holder is supplied, that can open a bit wider – and isn’t as expensive if it snaps. I’ve been keeping mine clipped to the neckline of my t-shirt, which seems to work well. They say it can also work reasonably well in your pocket, if you don’t want it on display, or don’t trust it to stay put.
Controls and Display
It has just one button and a small blue glowing LED display. Pressing the button cycles through the display information. Pressing and holding starts and stops a stopwatch, which tells the Fitbit you’re doing some sort of activity.
The display can have various features turned on or off. I’ve turned most of mine off, and I’m left with:
The Flower at its shortest. I wasn’t moving much.
The flower grows if you’re active, and shrinks if you’re not. It has just one leaf above, because I wasn’t moving much. Leap around enough, and I’m told it can grow up to eleven leaves. I may never see this happen. It’s all relative, though, and as you get fitter, and are more active normally, your flower becomes harder to grow.
I took a few steps today.
The step counter just counts how many steps you’ve taken, just like a standard old pedometer, though it should be a bit more accurate.
Twelve flights of stairs today – quite a climb.
This sort of counts how many flights of stairs you’ve counted. Hills count too, though, so it’s really counting how many multiples of ten feet you’ve ascended by. This seems less accurate in my testing, but better than a ‘normal’ pedometer – going up stairs is hard, so you deserve credit for it.
How Well Does It Work?
Seems to work pretty well in my (so far limited) testing. The step count seems reasonably accurate, which is more than can be said for most pedometers. It certainly seems to know when I’m going up stairs or up a hill, so I feel like I’m getting ‘extra credit’ for the extra work I’m doing. Beyond walking, running and going up and down stairs, it can probably only really guess at how much energy you’re burning when exercising, but that’s fine for me – I don’t go
beyond walking and going up and down stairs.
Speaking of stairs, I have found if I’ve done a fair bit of walking, even if it’s completely level, it sometimes registers stairs that I haven’t climbed. The altimeter is presumably based on air pressure, so if the pressure drops while I’m walking, it probably thinks I’m going up hill, or up stairs. It means you sometimes get credited with more stairs that you’ve really done.
In terms of motivating me to do more, I really haven’t tested yet. I decided when I got it that the first thing I would do was to establish a sort of baseline. I’d just do what I’d normally do, and let it measure my current levels of activity, then slowly try to increase that.
No, I really did plan to do that.
I failed. As soon as it was there measuring my activity, I started trying to increase it. On one day, we weren’t going out. I put my boots on and took two trips down to the bins, for the sake of increasing my ‘stairs’ count to meet my goal. I guess that means it worked quite well at getting me to be more active. It probably also means I’m gullible and easily tricked, and will go to a surprising amount of effort in pursuit of a tiny pixel leaf.
Well, that’s all good, but does it just sit there by the bed when you’re sleeping, doing nothing? No. No, it does not. You attach it to your wrist with the supplied wrist band, and it monitors your movements to work out when you’re sleeping. Each morning you get a graph showing you how good (or otherwise) your sleep was.
It’s confirmed for me that I sleep quite well, with nice long uninterrupted stretches. Sam has sleep apnea, and you can read about how she’s used her Fitbit to monitor the difference the CPAP machine makes.
I’ve no idea how much I’ll stick with it in future, and if it will continue to motivate me, but early signs are good. Using it takes so little effort that even limited benefits would be worth it, so I can’t see why I’d give up.