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My Love-Hate Relationship with My Fitbit

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For Christmas, I asked for a pair of Uggs and a Fitbit. Between my husband and my parents, I acquired both and was pleased as punch with my haul. Until I found out that the simple Fitbit model I had been gifted would soon be trumped by its more advanced, more technical baby brother, the newest Surge.

Due out in March, this new generation of Fitbit would not only track my steps like the old-fashioned pedometers of yesteryear, but it would also track my heart rate, calories burned, and since it had a GPS, it could accurately track my mileage when I went on walks or runs. But wait, there’s more! The newer version could also sync to my phone to record and alert me of incoming texts and emails and had different modes for tracking various exercises including yoga, hiking, spinning, and weight lifting. Just about the only thing this new model couldn’t do was wash the dishes piling up in the sink. Compared to the Fitbit I received for Christmas, this thing was amazing. I decided that I had to have this new model, so I returned the older one I got to buy this fancy, newer version.

Lucky for me, production went a little faster than expected in the factory, and the newer model was released early. So for a week now, I have been proudly wearing my clunky, over-sized Fitbit Surge to track my steps, record workouts, and monitor my sleeping habits. Already, I’ve developed an obsessive love-hate relationship with the gadget, but I have to admit that I’ve been surprised by how strangely motivating it’s been to wear the tracker throughout the day.

If you’re not familiar with the Fitbit or similar pedometer fitness trackers, the general purpose is to get you moving so that you can reach 10,000 steps a day, which is about 4.5 miles for an average height woman. It buzzes on your wrist when you reach your goal and sends you a badge of honor that you can proudly display on the corresponding Fitbit app. Because it strictly tracks steps via your arm and leg swings using some special technology that I don’t really get, your step count doesn’t increase with certain exercises like yoga, swimming, bicycling, or exercises like weightlifting, where you stay stationary. So as a whole, it’s not designed to monitor a person’s overall healthy habits, but just looks at them in a matter of steps. For the average American who sits behind a desk all day or plops down on the couch soon after their key hits the door or the kids hit the sack, it can nag them to instead increase their movement. To maybe get outside and take a walk or run.

The truth is, though, for any person wearing a Fitbit or other type of fitness tracker, it really doesn’t matter how much you already exercise, how healthy and committed you are to fitness, or how religiously you hit the gym. This little bracelet is just enough to get you walking in place when you do the dishes. Really, its sole purpose on Earth is to taunt, nag, egg, motivate you into taking more steps. Various settings allow it to buzz you when you’re not active enough, gently reminding you to get off your ass and step away from the screen. If you’re really a glutton for punishment, you can also become friends with other people via their app, or even allow others access to your account to serve as an accountability partner. You can partake in step competitions or grant them permission to send you annoying texts when they see you’ve only taken 2.529 steps at 4 pm.

I haven’t gone to such drastic measures yet, even though I’ve received a couple of emails of Facebook friends wanting to connect so that we can “motivate each other.” But I did find myself pacing the halls while waiting for my kids’ flu shots last week and climbing the stairs outside the medical office when the kids decided to monkey around instead of listening to me when I asked them to get in the car. “You’re not going to listen to me?!? Well then you’re gonna have to watch me walk!” I’ve definitely done the dish-wash hustle, marching in place as I scrub and scour pots and pans. I may have even bundled up for a 9 o’clock walk around the block yesterday, when I realized I was only 500 steps short of reaching 10,000.

Does taking a few extra hundred or thousand steps each day really do much for my overall health, and does it do much to help me achieve any particular fitness goals? For me, probably not, since I’m not necessarily trying to lose weight and most of my physical exercises are centered around toning muscle and building strength. But for those who are trying to move from a sedentary lifestyle to that of an active one, or who do in fact want to lose weight, I can see how this is an incredibly useful and motivating tool. Even as active as I am, I’ve been surprised at how much I really don’t move outside of my one hour of exercise each day. As a freelance writer, I do a lot of sitting in front of the computer, and since two of my kids are in school for six hours a day, and one naps for 2 to 3 hours a day, I don’t find myself being as active as I previously suspected. There is a certain amount of shock when you see, by a series of blips on the Fitbit watch, that you’ve been inactive for 2 to 3 hours at a time.  In recognizing this though, I’ve been more conscious of getting outside with the kids after school, and we’ve done a lot more walking around of the neighborhood in the last week. So in reality, it’s sort of helped us all get a little more active.

I realize that for some people, a fitness tracker like this would drive them mad, or even worse, be unhealthy for them, striking at the raw emotions and nerves that are often tied up with weight loss and body image. But for the average person who just wants and needs a little motivation via a gentle buzz on the wrist or wants to partake in some healthy competition with friends, I do believe this is a simple, convenient, and fun way to do just that. Of course there is no punishment for not taking 10,000 steps. No cash reward for reaching superstar step status. So at the end of the day, do these fitness trackers really work? I suspect they work just as well as anything in the health and fitness world. That is, they work as well as you want them to work and are committed to working with them.

Last Thursday, after my third night parenting solo, I was just about done-in, so when my Fitbit reminded me at 8 pm that I still hadn’t reached my step count, I took it off and then flipped it the bird as I climbed into bed. The next morning as I awoke refreshed after a good sleep and a new day ahead, I strapped on that sucker and got my feet moving right along. I also apologized for the not-so-friendly hand gesture.

Image courtesy of Andrea Howe

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