Last year, a woman I worked with kept talking about how many steps she had racked up via her Fitbit. Though I’d heard a little bit about Fitbits, I didn’t really understand what they were all about or how they worked. Many years ago, someone had given me an old fashioned pedometer, one of those colored plastic things you clipped to your belt loop, and I used it a couple of times, but then lost it and forgot about it. Fit Bit takes the whole pedometer thing into 21st century technology and then some.
Feeling my age and wanting to be inspired to exercise more seemed appealing, so Bryon gave me one for Valentine’s Day. I know what you’re thinking — how romantic? But truth be known I was thrilled, and immediately logged on my computer to set it up and then began wearing it the next day. If you’re one of the few people on the face of the earth not aware of how Fitbit works, or you’ve been hiding under a rock for several years, it’s pretty high tech. There are various versions, from the most basic that just clips on to a piece of clothing to the bracelet style that displays all kinds of data right on its display. Bryon sprang for one of the more elaborate ones, which I like for the simple fact it also displays time and I don’t have to wear a watch.
The basic premise of Fitbit is the same as a pedometer, but the technology provides all kinds of incentives for people to keep moving, KEEP MOVING, KEEP MOVING. You provide some personal data about your height and weight, and it logs the amount of steps you take. It is pre set to 10,000 steps as your goal, probably based on recommendations from some government agency somewhere in Washington, DC. But the Charge HR version I have also keeps track of heart rate, miles, calories burned, and floors climbed. The Fitbit is charged through a USB cable to my computer, and syncs the data either through a Fitbit App on my smart phone or through my computer through something called a Dongle. Before getting a Fitbit, I didn’t even know such a thing exist, much less what it meant. A Dongle sounds like a part dangling from some wild creature like a Mongoose. But actually it’s a small part that connects to your USB port on your computer — go figure!
So what you do with your data is up to you — keeping it either private or sharing it with your Fitbit groupie friends in the spirit of competition. You can join public groups of Fit Bit junkies from your local area or around the country, or select your own personal group of friends to compete with each week. To make matters worse, you have the option to “Cheer” your friends for a job well done or “Taunt” them if you deem them slackers, all in the name of getting everyone to move more, whether through pride or humiliation.
But does it work? The jury’s still out, but I can actually say they are many days when I peer down at my Fit Bit to find I’m not quite to my goal and I run around the house or walk up and down the road in front of the house in an effort to break the magical 10,000 step mark. But if you need extra incentive (beyond your taunting or cheering friends), Fitbit sends you cheery messages reminding you to go just a few more steps to make your goals. They also send you badges celebrating your daily and cumulative milestones — “You’ve just walked across China!” and “you’ve just climbed the Eiffel Tower!”.
I have to admit though there are days I feel uninspired and just want to “veg” (and then feel shamed when my step total is reported to me), or I feel the rebel inside of me say “Take that damn thing off for once!” and I don’t put it on. Of course later in the day, I’m always seething inside thinking of how many steps weren’t counted towards my competition with my Fitbit groupies. One thing I’m surprised about is how many kids I’ve met who seemed to covet my Fitbit and want one of their own. Recently, I’ve met several little girls and boys who upon meeting me say, “I like your Fitbit!” And since obesity often starts with children, a cool technology thing that actually makes them want to exercise rather than plant themselves in front of a computer can’t be a bad thing.
There is also a danger in wearing a Fitbit when doing something very strenuous in that I really don’t want to know how fast my heart is beating, in fear that a heart attack is imminent. When I climbed the infamous Manitou Springs Incline a few months ago (2100 feet in .88 miles), I knew I was pushing it really hard cardio-wise, and the last thing I wanted to know was how’d I exceeded my target heart rate by A LOT. I resisted the urge to check out things until I’d finished and rested for a few minutes. Of course, after the fact, I couldn’t wait to find out how many steps and floors climbed I’d done to brag to friends. My latest obsession is wondering just how many steps and floors climbed would my Fitbit compute on a trek up Longs Peak. I’m not sure that makes me more willing to give it a go, but we are climbing some peaks next month on a backpack, so it will be interesting to see those numbers. But in the end, yep I’ve been converted, and feel a bit smug when I see I’ve exceeded 100,000 steps for the week or topped 30,000 steps for the day. Take that, all you Ironman triathletes and marathoners!