Taking Steps to Improved Fitness with FitBit – at Home and on the Road

I am obsessed with my FitBit. Since receiving this wireless activity tracker Christmas morning, I’ve worn it religiously, tracking my steps, miles covered, calories burned and floors climbed. In the past 10 days, it has absolutely inspired me to move more while at home and while traveling — all in an effort to reach my daily goal of taking 10,000 steps, with the ultimate goal of being in my best physical shape possible when I start living on a ship for 10 weeks next summer (where I may or may not have as much time to exercise as much as I do now and where I’ll be eating three buffet meals a day – ack!).

fitbitThe FitBit is not like those pedometers of yesteryear. I have the FitBit One, which is a tiny clip that attaches to my bra. There’s also a small FitBit Zip (that doesn’t track floors climbed or sleep activity – more on that in a minute), as well as FitBits you wear on your wrist. I like the FitBit One because it’s not noticable; that is, if I were to get dressed up and go dancing (hey, it’s been known to happen), I wouldn’t need to wear a rubber bracelet on my arm.

The only downfall with the clip-on FitBit One is that when I want to read the digital display I have to reach down my shirt to access it (for that reason, if I’m hiking with it or want quick access, I’ll put it in a pocket). I’ve also read of people losing their FitBits to the washing machine because they forget to unclip it from their clothes.

But so far, mind you, it’s only been 10 days, I haven’t accidentally washed it — or lost it. But that’s because I wear it ALL THE TIME. Even when sleeping. Indeed, the FitBit – worn on a Velcro strap around my wrist — tracks how restful my sleep is, and how many hours of sleep I’m getting a night. The information is logged on my FitBit and then transmitted wirelessly to my laptop, where I log into my FitBit.com dashboard regularly to review all the cool charts my FitBit spits out (I can also do this via an iPhone or Android app).

I’m not sure what I’ll ultimately do with this sleep information, but I do think the sleep statistics are cool. See this chart below:

fitbitsleepOkay, so I forgot to wear it last Saturday night. But otherwise, this shows how many times I was restless (green) through the night, and when I’m awake (see the red part on the Monday when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night). Here’s a closer look at one of the nights, when I had what I think is a good night’s sleep (I must have been exhausted after traveling – going to bed at 9 p.m.!):

sleep2But really, I wanted a FitBit to track my activity, not my sleep. And this is where it gets really fun. This chart shows my steps taken yesterday – and whether they were light, moderate or very intense steps:

fitbit3That burst of moderate activity around 10 am was my doing a half-hour bodyweight workout in my basement (burpees, squats, push-ups, etc.); around noon the yellow bars were my walking up and down the steps to my basement, putting away Christmas decorations; and then at 4:30 pm I went to a Zumba class, where I recorded more than 5500 steps taken! (That’s more than half of my daily goal met in just one hour; yes, I’m going back to Zumba again today.)

Yesterday I recorded a total of 14,181 steps, I burned a total of 2,558 calories (estimated based on the intensity level of my activity and my height and weight, which I recorded in my FitBit.com profile) and I covered 6.41 miles. My FitBit.com dashboard also tells me I climbed 39 floors, and had a total of 48 “very active” minutes yesterday.

What’s cool about the FitBit.com dashboard (or, again, one you can see with a smartphone app), is that it’ll tell you when your daily goals are met. You can set these yourself, or just use the default goals provided by FitBit (i.e. 10 floors a day is my default, but that’s really not hard for me to meet, given I live in a three-floor house and my neighborhood walk is up and down hills).

Of course, all of this tracking is very much an estimate. The miles my FitBit says I walked differs from what my treadmill screen says; when I was in Florida earlier this week, my friend and I walked/jogged a route that she says is 1.5 miles, and my FitBit recorded 1.2 miles.

Also, I noted that my FitBit recorded some steps when I was driving my car today! Not sure what’s up with that. (The steps recorded were minimal.)

Regardless, I think it’s accurate enough when it comes helping with goal setting and getting out of my desk chair or away from the TV and moving. In the last 10 days, I’ve not met my 10,000 steps a day goal just three times: two of those were travel days across the country (spent on planes and in airports, where I did make some laps during layovers) and one was a lazy rainy day spent mainly relaxing at my Florida pal’s house.

That said, I’ve more than exceeded my 10,000 steps a day goal, if I look at the average for the week. That’s because I walked a whopping 24,377 steps at Orlando’s Universal Studios one day and 22,011 at the Magic Kingdom another day. That’s averaging 10 miles a day for a whole lot of fun at a theme park!

Because I took my FitBit tracker on vacation to Florida, I was inspired to get up early one morning while at an airport hotel and take a walk outside. (The hotel had no fitness center, otherwise I likely would have gotten on the treadmill.)  Because I wanted to log more steps, I suggested we walk to a theatre in Tampa, rather than take a taxi. I’m not sure I would have done this without having my daily step goal. The FitBit also inspired me to encourage my family to take not one but two walks with me along our dirt road at home, before and after Christmas dinner.

I am to use my treadmill desk more in 2014 - while wearing my FitBit, of course!

I aim to use my not-so-high-tech treadmill desk more in 2014 – while wearing my FitBit, of course!

In the past several months, I’ve used my treadmill desk to co-host Expedia Twitter chats while walking 2 miles an hour. It’s not highly aerobic, but, hey, I’m moving, not sitting. (Can’t wait to see how many steps my FitBit logs for those 90 minutes of Tweeting!)

Again, the FitBit doesn’t do everything and it’s not totally accurate. It’s not going to record the good things I’m doing for my body, say, in yoga class — or riding a bike (unlike the BodyMedia that Beth has that seems to have a more sensitive tracking option to record different types of activity).

Also, to track caloric intake that will show up on your FitBit profile/dashboard, you need to sync it with an online calorie tracker like My Fitness Pal. (So far, I haven’t done this. I’ve logged food before, and it’s totally helpful to keep you mindful of what’s going in your mouth, but it’s also time consuming.)

The FitBit certainly isn’t a panacea to fitness success, but I’m glad it’s part of my overall plan to feel really good in 2014, especially going into my whirlwind trip to Europe this summer. I love reaching my steps, floors and mileage goals daily (the FitBit.com dashboard sends me little smiley faces and “Hoorays” when I meet goals). It’s already encouraged me to move more — exercising twice in one day (which rarely, if ever, happened before Christmas). I’ve seen how much just small bursts of activity — walking up steps instead of the elevator or parking in the farthest spot at the grocery store parking lot — can add up.

My overall goal in 2014 is to make some long-term, better lifestyle choices. I have no interest in fad diets; I want to keep up an exercise routine I can stick to. I started 2013 on the right foot at the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge, and I’ve happily maintained a lot of good habits I started there. (For example, I am making eggs and toast for breakfast more often than eating Cheerios and I cook a protein-filled morning meal for my children more often; I’ve given up my daily Diet Coke habit; I’ve eliminated fake sugars from my diet.)

But ultimately, this year I’m shooting for fewer processed foods, much healthier choices at restaurants, not going hog wild on rich food and drink while traveling, more vegetables, more water and less emotional and social eating. Coupled with simply moving my body more — thanks to my FitBit accountability — I’m confident I’ll start my summer of European travels feeling even better than I do now!

Note: Since I wrote this blog post, some FitBit Force owners have complained of moderate to severe blistering/redness on their wrists. Caution.

6 Comments on "Taking Steps to Improved Fitness with FitBit – at Home and on the Road"

  1. I want a Fitbit so bad! I may have to bite the bullet & buy one.

    • Colleen, I think you’d LOVE it. You’re a jogger, right? Totally motivating to see that step number climb (and running is a fast way to put a big dent in that 10,000 steps a day goal).

  2. Wow. I want one! I use RunKeeper to record my running and hiking times and distances (includes calories burned) but I’d love to have something on me all the time. It’s a great motivational tool I’d guess!

  3. Jennifer Miner | January 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply

    Hey Kara — how big is this clip-on version? Doesn’t it weigh your bra down? Do you feel it hanging there?

    • Kara Williams | January 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm |

      Two inches long, 3/4 of an inch wide at bottom but tapers to 1/2 inch wide at top. Nope, don’t feel it. Super light.

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