The Fitbit is a little technological marvel, which I introduced in my prior post. But it is more than that. If you integrate the regular wearing of the Fitbit into your daily life, a number of things will begin to change for you. I say this because I’ve been a regular user for more than two years now. Also, as result of my keen interest (fanaticism?) in the Fitbit, more than 20 members of my family and friends are now regular users of this device.
There are, of course, many pedometers on the market. They range from inexpensive, mechanical step counters to more expensive electronic devices. You can get take a quick look at the variety available here. There are also apps for your iPhone or for your Android devices. I’m not pushing any specific device for you. I just talk about the Fitbit because it works for me.
So how will a Fitbit (or any other pedometer you pay attention to) bring about changes in your life?
1. Your exercise becomes visible and actionable in real time. When you miss a workout, you simply miss it and don’t get the calorie or muscle burn you long for. But missing once and then again are not visible. You don’t “see” yourself missing, you just miss and then, perhaps, miss again. Personally, my workouts became almost invisible, except for accumulating guilt when I missed them. With the Fitbit, you can see your daily exercise results from the minute you wake up and check it. And you can see your cumulative exercise as the day progresses. The first point here is that what is visible, i.e., your exercise or lack thereof, is also actionable in real time.
2. Little things build daily momentum for your exercise. If you have a good start on the day, say, you went to Lowe’s to do some shopping and wandered all around the big box, you might, without thinking about it, get three or four thousand steps by the time you get there, do your shopping, get back to the car and arrive at home. That little bit of visible success is motivating for most and encourages us to focus on walking farther during the rest of the day. On the other hand, if you sat at your desk all morning, hardly moving, you might have only 1,200 steps at lunch. That’s a good incentive to walk somewhere a good distance away for lunch, if that is possible where you are. The second point is that the little things that we do or do not do over the course of a day can help us stay active or get active during the rest of the day.
3. Daily success helps build momentum for the current week’s exercise. In addition to your daily “scores”, the Fitbit tracks your progress on a weekly basis. If you check your app, you will know every day, how many steps you have walked over the past week (seven days). For example, if your daily goal is 6,000 steps per day and your weekly score is 40,000 steps, you know you need to step is up on the current day to keep your cumulative pace at 42,000 steps per week. If you are out of shape and just getting started, 42,000 steps per week might be a good goal. Interestingly, the seven day feature is a rolling thing. At midnight of each day, the seventh day past rolls off, so you begin each day with your six day total. When I woke up this morning, my last six day total steps was 69,748. If I get 10,252 steps today, I’ll have a seven day total of 80,000 steps. Want to bet that I get at least that many steps? Don’t. You’ll lose! Unlike invisible and lost workouts, if you know exactly where you stand, you can take action and keep exercise momentum this week. And Fitbit sends you encouraging messages as you approach your daily goals and congratulatory messages if you achieve them.
4. Little behavior changes will have big impacts to your health program. When you actually begin to track your steps and activity, you will find that small changes, implemented regularly, will have a large impact on your daily results. I have had a personal parking spot in our building’s garage when we moved to our “new” offices four years ago. I just parked in that spot without thinking. Then, one day, I realized that if I park at the far end of the garage each day I would add several hundred steps to my daily workday routine. Amazing that it took me so long to think of that little change. Where do you park when you go to the grocery, to Home Depot, church, or anywhere? For years, I just gravitated to the closest spot near the entrance to my destination. Since wearing the Fitbit, I now park at the far end of parking lots to gain the extra steps. Little things make a big difference when practiced daily. I’m fortunate in that there are a number of restaurants within walking distance of my office. It is a rare day that I drive anywhere to lunch. It is better to walk. And many days, I’ll take an additional ten or fifteen minute walk after eating. The point is that small changes become movement patterns and habits that influence your overall level of activity each day.
5. Climbing stairs becomes an opportunity for exercise. The Fitbit counts the number of flights of stairs that you climb each day. Simply put, for most of us, climbing stairs is excellent exercise. Note I said climbing stairs. Descending stairs can be hard on us so I often take the elevator down after climbing the stairs. Climbing increases the intensity of walking and helps build stamina. Fitbit enables you monitor your stair-climbing as a separate activity. For me, ten stair flights per day is a minimum goal. Since I live in a multi-story home, I usually make it. But the 25 flights of stairs at the office are always there and waiting…
6. Other kinds of exercise are encouraged and counted with step-equivalents. I regularly play a variation of handball called fatball. When I wear my Fitbit while playing, my steps are counted and the intensity of my workout is recorded. Friends tell me that the Fitbit counts steps on an elliptical machine. When I run in place, it will count steps, granting one step for each time my left foot hits the ground. When I’m flying, I often do several hundred toe stretches. to keep my circulation up and to prevent cramping and swelling. This is a great exercise on cross country or international flights! What I’m saying is that the Fitbit will give you credit for steps for just about anything you do, with a caveat for cyclists. My friends tell me that the Fitbit doesn’t give step-equivalents for cyclists.
7. A little friendly competition can be helpful. With the Fitbit app, you can set up groups of family and friends. Each day, my girlfriend and I have a friendly competition to see who gets the most steps during each day. We also track our seven day totals, so we not only have daily motivation, but also the motivation of keeping our seven day rolling averages at or above our minimum step goals (10,000 each at the present).
8. Movement becomes habit and healthful. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “100 steps after meals, live to 99.” The wisdom is that it is good to move, not only after meals, but significantly throughout the day. If you work with your Fitbit or exercise pedometer of choice, you will develop the habit of movement. Regular exercise, including walking, is good for weight control, blood pressure maintenance, circulation, muscle toning and much more. I’m not an exercise physiologist nor am I a physician. But some things are common sense. There is an old saying that “You are what you eat.” If you become a person of movement, you increase the odds of maintaining good health. You are what you do.
9. Regular movement influences other decisions to the benefit of health. If you do become a person of movement, you will find that the fact that you are paying attention to your steps and your calories will begin to influence your dietary choices. With the Fitbit, you learn what calories you need to expend to maintain weight or to move toward a weight reduction goal. That knowledge helps with food and beverage decisions at the margin. I know that my weight maintains at somewhere around 2,700 calories per day. If I expend 3,000 calories I know I am in a slow weight reduction mode. If I overeat and know it (you can count calories in the Fitbit system, but I don’t), then I know I have to watch my intake and work on increasing activity for a few days. And weighing on my Aria scale (see my previous post) daily provides instant feedback! The point of all of this is that it is not a visit to the doctor’s office that causes these behavior changes, but your and my increasing focus on what we do with our bodies every day.
So, I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider obtaining a Fitbit or any other pedometer and beginning or continuing a life of movement. As always, please feel free to comment about this post or share it with your networks.
Until next time,