Regular use of a Fitbit or other step-tracking device can change your life for the better. This post addresses nine ways that Fitbit (or any consistent tracking device that we use) can influence you for the better.
The Fitbit entered my life in December of 2011 when I did a bit of Christmas shopping for myself. What I bought at that time was a Fitbit pedometer that I carried in my pocket or clipped to my belt. The Fitbit (and, for a three-year period, an Apple Watch) has been an important part of my life ever since. I first wrote about the Fitbit in a post on this blog in April 2014. The pedometer at the time looked like this:
Technology has changed in recent years. My current Fitbit is a watch, the Fitbit Versa 2 (I recommend the special edition, which costs a few dollars more). It is a technological marvel that tracks everything I’m interested in: steps, heart rate, stairs climbed, exercise duration, sleep patterns, and more. And, unlike the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Versa 2 needs charging only every four to five days. The Fitbit Versa 2 looks like this:
So how will a Fitbit (or any other tracking device you pay attention to) bring about changes in your life?
- Your exercise becomes visible and actionable in real time. Normally, when you miss a workout, you miss it. But missing once and then again are not visible. You don’t “see” yourself missing, you just miss and then, perhaps, miss again and again. Personally, before the Fitbit, 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 actionable in real time.
- Little things build daily momentum for your exercise. If you have a good start on the day, say, you were active at home, went by the grocery store to pick up a few things. Then, you went to Lowe’s to do some shopping for your garden and wandered all around the big box. On a morning like that, you might, without thinking about it, get 4,000 steps (about the equivalent of 2 miles) without thinking about exercise at all. 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 possible. 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.
- 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 or month or longer. For example, if your daily goal is 6,000 steps per day and your weekly score is 40,000 steps on the last day of the week, you know you need to step it up on the current day to keep your cumulative pace at 42,000 steps per week. If you are not in the greatest of shape and just getting started, 42,000 steps per week might be a good goal. The Fitbit app shows your last seven days in a graph in relationship to your daily goal. The app also tracks week-to-date total steps. And you can look back at your history for as long as it has accumulated. Unlike invisible and lost workouts, if you know exactly where you stand, you can take action and keep exercise momentum this week or any week. The Fitbit also sends you encouraging messages as you approach your daily goals and congratulatory messages if you achieve them.
- Little behavior changes will have big impacts on 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 had a personal parking spot in our building’s garage when we moved to our current office space. For four years, I just parked in that spot without thinking. Then, one day, I realized that if I park at the far end of the garage 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 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.
- 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 an excellent exercise. Note I said climbing stairs. Descending stairs can be hard on knees so I often take the elevator down after climbing the stairs. Climbing increases the intensity of walking and helps build stamina. The Fitbit enables you to monitor your stair-climbing as a separate activity. For me, ten flights of stairs per day is a minimum goal. Since I live in a multi-story home, I usually make it. But the 26 flights of stairs at the office are always there and waiting…
- Other kinds of exercise are encouraged and counted with step-equivalents. I discovered the game of pickleball in January 2016. 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. I don’t know if cycling gets reasonably counted with step-equivalents.
- A little friendly competition can be helpful. With the Fitbit app, you can set up groups of family and friends. Each day, my wife 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 at a minimum at the present).
- 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 device 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. The Fitbit measures and tracks heartbeats per minute. When I slow down on exercise, my resting heartbeat tends to raise several points. When I’m regularly meeting my goals, my resting beat is in the 64-67 bpm range. I’m not an exercise physiologist nor am I a physician, but some things are common sense. There is an old saying “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.
- Regular movement influences other decisions for the benefit of health. If you do become a person of movement, you will likely 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 (or I can have a treat!). 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 increase my activity for a few days. Weighing daily on a linked scale also 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.
You can purchase the Fitbit Versa 2 at fitbit.com/versa. There are, of course, other options for similar technology. But for my money, the Fitbit Versa 2 Special (be sure to get the special edition) is the best choice. By the way, I get no compensation from Fitbit for my occasional posts like this. I’ve never even received a single “at-a-boy” from them. But getting this product and using it every day can change your life for the better.
So, I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider obtaining a Fitbit Versa 2 or any other step tracking device for which there is a good tracking app and beginning or continuing a life of movement. As always, please feel free to comment on this post or share it with your networks.
Until next time, be well!