So I finally broke down and got a Fitbit. Why, exactly? I'm still not absolutely sure. One reason was definitely curiosity since everyone seems to be wearing one these days, but it certainly has not been something I ever felt that I NEEDED or even really wanted. Plus, my last watch broke, so I needed something to tell time... so I went for it.
I have to admit, I do kind of like it. It is actually pretty fun to see your activity on the app, and I especially found it interesting how it tracks my sleep patterns. I have never been one to own a heart rate monitor, so this was another added bonus for me to now pay closer attention to. Yes, I am a personal trainer, and I never have paid a huge amount of attention to my own heart rate with activity. But I have certainly been able to gauge my activity with breathing ability and perceived rate of exertion for any exercise I may be doing (and this is what I have done with clients as well, who do not own such gadgets).
So let's break it down as far as function. I know different models of fitness trackers may have some different capabilities, but the general function is still the same. Let's start with tracking your steps. It seems that the goal for just about everyone is getting those 10,000 steps a day. This adds up to about 5 miles per day, and if 30 minutes of that includes daily exercise, then that satisfies the CDC's recommendation of getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. It seems that you can go just about anywhere these days, and eventually you will here someone commenting on how many steps they have gotten that day or what they have left to accomplish in order to get their 10,000. People will all-out march in place towards the end of the hour to get their required steps so they can get some sort of congratulations or positive feedback from their fitness tracker. You know you've seen that, or maybe you've even done it!
Now this is the nice part of having a fitness tracker if you are one of those people who thrive on a little positive feedback. If this truly motivates you to move more, than you win! But what does that 10,000 steps actually do for you every day? Of course there are health benefits to moving more, that goes without saying. The more active we are every day, the better chance we have at lowering blood pressure, reduce risk of diabetes and improve overall cardiovascular health. Will it make you lose weight? It's possible, but that all depends on what's going in your mouth every day. Take one person who was very sedentary, and without increasing their daily caloric intake, they are now getting 10,000 steps per day which they were never even close to before. This person very well may lose some weight over time. But on the other hand, take someone who habitually over eats and has a poor diet. If they start tracking their 10,000 steps per day yet continue to overeat and make poor choices, then no... they will most likely not lose any weight. These are the people that get frustrated thinking that their Fitbit didn't help them lose weight. Well, the Fitbit isn't a magic genie once it goes on your arm. It will track what you're doing, but it will not automatically make you lose 10 pounds or better your health just by wearing it. Not to mention, the calories burned when walking greatly depend on the intensity and speed of your walk. You will have a greater calorie burn, and therefore a greater chance of weight loss, if you're steps taken are with higher speed and intensity throughout the day.
Of course there is the ability to track your food with most of these fitness trackers, but I find that most people don't bother doing that. It is a nice feature, but can be a bit tough to be extremely accurate with food and calorie intake... nonetheless, always a great idea to keep a food journal, especially if weight loss is your goal.
What I tend to see a lot is people who get these fitness trackers with all good intentions of having this new device make them healthy and slim. Well, it doesn't work that way without effort and determination on your part. Can it help motivate? Absolutely. Will it give you the results you want just by wearing it? No. If you're someone who is grabbing at straws trying to find something that will make you "fit", don't waste your money on a Fitbit if you have trouble putting in the effort yourself. At the end of the day, it starts with YOU. When you decide to make a commitment and put in the work, that's when results happen. And if you're doing this and just so happen to be wearing a Fitbit along the way? Good for you, and enjoy your fun little gadget! :-)
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Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.