Although I’ve called this post a Fitbit Flex Review, a better title would probably be “How my new Fitbit Flex finally got me off my ass, when everything else failed.”
If you’ve been reading my regular weekend updates, you probably know that I’ve been seriously struggling with exercise lately – and by “lately” I mean “my whole life”. I think it’s safe to say I’ll never be a gym bunny: I’m the kind of person who’s always had to force herself to do any kind of exercise at all, and recently I’ve been… well, not doing any kind of exercise at all. Or not much, anyway: I’ve had a few short-lived periods of renewed motivation, but they’ve never lasted more than a few days, and every week has been yet another fresh start that didn’t last. Not even the purchase of new workout clothes has managed to tempt me back into my running shoes for long – in fact, not even the purchase of new running shoes managed to do it, and when new shoes can’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.
Well, actually, I DO know: the Fitbit Flex has managed to motivate me, and that’s why this post isn’t so much a Fitbit Flex review as it’s a quick rundown of how it’s helped me. I’m not going to give you an in-depth breakdown of the Fitbit Flex features, or tell you how to use it, because there are plenty of sites out there doing a better job of that than I could, but for those of you who don’t know, a Fitbit is an activity tracker, designed to monitor how much you move in any given day, how well you sleep, and a bunch of other stuff besides. So it’s a fancy pedometer, basically.
There are a few different types of Fitbit to choose from: I got the Fitbit Flex (or rather, Terry got it for me, because I’m spoiled.), which is a slim band you wear on your wrist. You’ve probably seen it in some of my recent posts, in fact, on account of how I never take the damn thing off. (Other than to shower, anyway, and it’s waterproof, so you don’t even need to take it off for that if you don’t want to…) I sleep with it on. I exercise with it on. I, er, take blog photos with it on:
All the time, people, not even joking.
Because of this near-constant use, I’m able to use my Fitbit Flex to monitor:
○ HOW MANY STEPS I TAKE EACH DAY
○ HOW WELL I SLEEP AT NIGHT
○ HOW MANY CALORIES I EAT EVERY DAY
○ HOW MUCH WATER I DRINK (Clue: NOT ENOUGH)
○ HOW MUCH EXERCISE I DO EVERY DAY
And so on and so forth. The steps, sleep and exercise are measured automatically, thanks to the motion censor on the Fitbit Flex itself. The rest (food, water, etc) you have to log manually, either using the iPhone app which syncs with the Flex, or the desktop version, which does the same thing. Both of these also give you access to all of your stats (arranged into handy graphs and charts, for your viewing pleasure), and allow you to see how you measure up to your Fitbit-owning friends, who you basically compete with to see who’s done the most steps in the last seven days. Nifty.
UM, ISN’T THERE AN APP FOR THAT?
Here’s the thing: none of this is anything new or revolutionary. Pedometers have been around for as long as I can remember (I once got one free inside a packet of Cornflakes, actually. True story.), and for everything I’ve just mentioned, there is, indeed, an iPhone app. I should know: I’ve used them all. I’ve used apps to track exercise, apps to count calories, apps to encourage me to drink more water, apps to monitor sleep… You name it, I’ve probably believed it was going to change my life at some point.
So how is this different?
Honestly, it’s not: if you wanted to, you could track all of this information on your iPhone or tablet, and save yourself a bit of money. Plus, you wouldn’t have to walk around looking like you were wearing an electronic tag, so there’s that.
For me, though, where the Fitbit Flex triumphs over all those apps is first of all in its ability to pull all of that information together in the same place, where you can see at a glance how active you are – or how active you’re NOT in my case, because WOW, were those first few days of stats a wake-up call for me. I mean, I work from home, and because of that, I knew my lifestyle was fairly sedentary: if I don’t make an active effort to go for a run or something, I’ll basically just sit at my desk all day, and that can’t be good for me. Like I say, I knew this, but I hadn’t really thought much about it until the Fitbit arrived, and I started looking at the stats. Most people seem to set 10,000 steps per day as their goal, so I followed suit, assuming I’ d probably get pretty close to that just through normal activity, right? How hard could it be, after all?
Folks, it can be hard.
My Flex arrived on a Friday, which meant my first full day of tracking was the following day – Saturday. That night, Terry and I went to a party, and I managed to clock up 7,000 steps in a couple of hours, just from dancing. Yay! This was SO TOTALLY EASY!
The next day, I did 2,500 steps, if that.
The day after that? The same.
It turns out that without the dancing, and without what I think of as exercise-for-the-sake-of-it, I hardly move AT ALL. And honestly, that made me a bit ashamed: especially when, as I said in this post, I could see my mother-in-law, who’s in her 70s, easily smashing that 10,000 step target day after day. Now, don’t get me wrong: I know there are plenty of people who aren’t able to be active, for a whole range of perfectly legitimate reasons, but the fact is, I’m not one of those people. I’m young(ish), I’m fit(ish), I’m healthy… there’s absolutely no excuse for me to be sitting on my ass all day, and I can justify it as much as I like by saying how OMGBUSY I am, but I know I’m kidding myself if I think I can’t fit in a quick run from time to time. Also – and there’s no way to say this without it sounding super-cheesy, but realising how little I move every day made me realise that one day I may not be ABLE to move around easily (And that day will come sooner than later if I continue to sit at my desk guzzling coffee for 14 hours a day), so I should probably get off my ass and make the most of my health while I have it. Sermon over.
So that was the first way the Fitbit Flex helped me: it provided me with a much-needed wake-up call. Here are some of the other benefits I’ve found to it:
○ GOAL SETTING
I’ve mentioned before that I’m very goal-orientated: I like being able to set a target for something, and then meet – or preferably BEAT it. The Fitbit Flex allows you to set targets for steps, calories burned, weight loss, or whatever you want, and then it tells you how close you are to meeting those targets. I’m the kind of person who will not rest until she’s met her target for the day/week/year/whatever, and I mean that literally: if it’s almost bedtime, and I still have 500 steps to go until I meet my daily target, I’ll get on the treadmill and walk/run until I’ve done it. I’m not saying those additional few steps will make THAT much difference to my overall health and fitness, and some would argue that setting arbitrary step targets is a bit pointless really, but without that target, I probably wouldn’t work out AT ALL – in fact, I’d barely move at all – so it’s something that works for me, and regardless of what you think of counting steps as a measure of activity, in my case there’s no arguing with the fact that it has made a big difference to how active I am.
○ HEALTHY COMPETITION
This won’t be a factor for everyone, but I find a little bit of (friendly) competition quite helpful in motivating me, and I like being able to log in every day and see where I am in the ‘league table’, so to speak. You can “friend” people via the Fitbit app in much the same way as you do on Facebook, say, and once you’re friends with someone, you can see their 7-day step total. Even if you’re not competitive, it can be useful to see what the “average” level of activity is amongst your friends, and see how you measure up to that. If you ARE competitive, you can start contests with your friends to see who completes the most steps in a day/weekend/whatever. I haven’t tried this, because I’m not really into that kind of competition, but if you are, it could be another way to motivate yourself.
○ IT WORKS.
Once I got past that first weekend, and realised how little I was doing, I have to say, this has done exactly what it’s supposed to do – it’s motivated me to get up from my desk and actually MOVE. I’ve run more in the past week that I have all year, and I’m already seeing the benefits from it, in that I’m sleeping better, waking up earlier, and feeling more energetic during the day. My current aim is to get my 10,000 steps in first thing, so rather than procrastinating at my desk for hours, I have my morning coffee, then get on with trying to hit my target, which I do through a combination of dog-walking, running (either on the treadmill or outdoors) and what I guess I’d call “normal activity”, i.e. moving around the house, running errands etc. Because I still find exercise-for-the-sake-of-it pretty boring, I do my best to try and be more active in other ways: walking rather than taking the car, taking the longer route rather than the shorter one, etc etc. I’m not claiming here that 10,000 steps per day is the perfect amount, or that it’s going to change my life, but I DO know that it’s significantly more activity than I had been getting, and that has to be a good thing.
○ CREATING HEALTHIER HABITS
Most of all, I think the Fitbit Flex has helped change the way I look at exercise. It hasn’t made me LIKE it, I hasten to add – it would be a miracle that would do that, not a black rubber wristband. I haven’t suddenly started leaping out of bed every morning, eager to go for a run, and when I DO work out, I’m still glad when it’s over, but the biggest change is that I no longer feel quite so resentful about having to do that workout in the first place. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t ever seem to get the famous endorphin rush people talk about through exercise, and I’m not aiming to lose weight either, so in the past, working out always seemed like a bit of a thankless task, really. It was boring, it was time-consuming, it didn’t make me feel great afterwards, and although I knew that it was good for me, there was no tangible evidence of that to keep motivating me: it was just a chore I did because I felt I had to, and it felt like a lot of effort for very little reward.
With my tracker, though, I’ve been able to see exercise in context: I can see how little I was doing before, and I’m now starting to see my daily workouts less as a chore to be got through, and more as an investment in my health, as cheesy as that probably sounds. I resent it less because I feel like there’s an actual purpose to it now, and although that purpose may be a purely manufactured one, it works for me.
HOW ACCURATE IS THE TRACKING?
Finally, the main question I’ve been getting from people in “real life” about my Fitbit is how accurate the tracking, and how useful it is to aim to walk X amount of steps, anyway.
First of all, the step-counting is just one of the ways you can measure activity: it’s the one I’ve chosen to use, purely because it’s easy, but if you’re not interested in how many steps you do, you can choose to set your goal as calories burned or distance walked instead. As far as accuracy goes, I’d say it’s fairly accurate when walking – when I’ve tried walking with the app open on my phone, I can see the steps being counted, and they always correspond pretty well to the steps I’m actually taking.
It seems a little less accurate when I’m running, which I’m not hugely concerned about: the Fitbit Flex is supposed to be an “activity tracker” as opposed to a simple step counter, and as long as the tracking is consistent, and the number of steps it counts in a hour today is roughly the same as the number of steps it’ll count in the same activity tomorrow, I’m OK with it occasionally missing a few steps. I’m more interested in increasing my activity levels than in knowing exactly how many steps I’ve taken in a day, so I’m using the daily step total as a benchmark to measure how active I am, as opposed to a way to count every single step I ever take.
I guess for me, the only real downside to this little gadget is that it’s not the best looking accessory out there. Mine is the black version, and while it’s not horrible looking, it’s not exactly something that goes with every outfit, or that I’d choose to wear for aesthetic reasons. You can, however, buy replacement Fitbit Flex bands, including these Tory Burch for Fitbit bracelets, which I really like:
They’re pretty pricey, so I’ll be waiting a bit to make sure I’m actually going to keep using it before I think about getting one: I wouldn’t wear it when I’m working out, or for day-to-day use, but I think they’d be handy for those times when I’m wearing something that DOESN’T work with a black rubber band…
Anyone else got a Fitbit? What do you think of it?[EDITED TO ADD: I wrote this post yesterday, and right before I went to bed, my Fitbit randomly stopped working. Looks like it’ll have to be replaced – mine was a refurbished one, so I’m guessing there was probably something wrong with this specific one to start with, rather than it being a problem with the device in general, but I thought I should probably mention it given that I’m publishing a review on the thing! ]
* slight exaggeration