Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fitbit, Part Two

Well, aside from when it's been recharging, I've been using my Fitbit religiously for the past two weeks.

I think the best way to discuss the Fitbit is to break down my experience by topic.

Step Counting: Since walking is virtually the only exercise that I can do safely and regularly, I have become a bit of an expert at spotting the weaknesses in various types of pedometers. Many pedometers wildly overcount the number of steps you take. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I've seen pedometers add 15 steps or so just for pulling your pants down to use the facilities. And then add a few more for good measure when you pull your pants back up. These are the hypersensitive pedometers. Then there are pedometers that refuse to count any steps at all if you haven't taken at least ten in a row. Since I have a kitchen the size of a shoe box (nicely renovated, but you won't see it on HGTV because apparently nothing makes the grade on HGTV if it isn't the size of a football field--yes including bathrooms--but I digress), I have been known to clock less than 100 steps while constantly moving around my kitchen for an hour because the space is so small than I'm never taking more than 5-6 steps at a time. Frustrating.

I would rate the Fitbit a wee bit too sensitive. I'm convinced that it's overly generous, though it's more accurate when I work in the kitchen than my other pedometer. I think it also depends on where you wear it on your body. I suspect its accuracy is higher clipped to the middle of my bra than clipped onto my pants.

Stair Climbing: In my house, I'm constantly going up and down stairs between the main floor and the upper floor. The Fitbit seems to accurately count this activity, giving my one staircase point per climb/descent. However, it doesn't seem to register the climb/descent to the basement. I suspect the staircase in question is just too short for the Fitbit to register anything at all. Too bad, but since I'm on the longer staircase between the ground and the upper floor more often, I'm fairly happy with the accuracy. On the other hand, I'm not sure that it will register anything if you only go in one direction on a staircase, for instance if you decide to descend a long staircase by foot in the subway but take the escalator up at your destination. I'll have to check this.

Calories Burned: For people whose goal is to lose weight, I imagine this number is the holy grail. Unfortunately, without some fairly sophisticated equipment, there is no way for me to verify the accuracy of the number of calories the Fitbit says I've burned. Based on my height and weight, the Fitbit has also decided how many calories I should aim to burn in a day if I want to lose 1/2 pound a week. Unfortunately, the Fitbit can't take into account my disabilities and I have rarely been able to hit this number--maybe two or three times over the past two weeks. The paltry number of calories I burn per day leads me to believe that its ability to register calories burned is not too far off the mark. I did do one interesting, though fleetingly short experiment on the elliptical trainer. I did two minutes on the trainer (more and my knee would not let me forget it for days) and compared the number of calories the machine said I'd burned to the number the Fitbit registered. The elliptical gave me around 11, the Fitbit, maybe 3. This confirms what I've always said about machines like the elliptical or the stationary bike: don't believe the numbers they give you. They're designed to make you feel good about yourself, not to give you the truth!

Time Active (Activity Levels): This is one characteristic of the Fitbit that I really appreciate. The Fitbit analyzes your activity according to four levels: sedentary, lightly active, fairly active and very active. I am resigned to the fact that I almost never reach a high level of activity. But it's good to see just how much activity I do get. Recently, husband said jokingly to me that the Fitbit "made me do the laundry" that night and he was right. I felt that I wanted to get a bit more activity in that day and taking care of the laundry was a good way to do something to get me moving but not cause me any pain.

Active Score: I have to admit, this is one characteristic of the Fitbit that I do not fully understand. This is how the active score is defined on the Fitbit site:
The active score captures how active you were compared to if you were completely sedentary all day. Your score will be 0 if you were sedentary, and typically a 3-digit number if you were active.

You may prefer the active score over calories burned, because the active score just captures your level of activity and is not dependent on your height and weight, as calories burned is.

The Active Score is a rough translation of your average METs for the day (METs = Active Score x .001 + 1)

The problem is, I can't find the definition of MET. What I can say is that the Fitbit wants me to reach an active score of 1000 per day. Sorry, but it ain't gonna happen very often. I can thank my back, knee and hip for that. So I just do what I can.

Now, have I really gone over to the dark side?

I will answer that question in my next post.


  1. I gave up on pedometers the day I clocked 100 steps driving my stick shift across town!

  2. Fat Chick: Some pedometers are definitely more accurate than others. I once returned one to the store for a refund when I saw that it was totally out to lunch. The Life Brand at Shoppers Drug Mart here in Canada isn't too bad (a bit hypersensitive). The Omron (there are a few different models) might be a bit stingy.

    As someone who relies almost entirely on walking for exercise, I'm very attached to my pedometer, though now the Fitbit has taken its place!

  3. I do have to say I'm loving my fitbit! And yes it definitely has helped me to be more active in small ways that are adding up :)
    Before the Fitbit I had an Omron that I really liked as well.

  4. Hmm...I never considered the fact that it wouldn't take into account physical disabilities (which makes sense) but it seems like you've gotten enough out of it to make it useful to you. I started with an Omron pedometer and it worked really well too, but I know what you mean about some being over sensitive. I had one once that counted steps as I was driving!

  5. Well, I was sure I left a snarky, chain-yanking comment here at 3am a couple days ago. Probably a good thing it didn't show up. :) I just can't get over the concept of attaching myself to a strange little device that records then spits out data. (Maybe it's that "spitting out" part that concerns me. LOL.) I eat such an infinitesimal quantity of food each day, it wouldn't be worth knowing the actual calorie count. I'm sure the total seldom exceeds 1000. I just don't get very hungry, and don't do much actual exercise (not on purpose, anyway.) I guess the high percentage of fat consumed, in proportion to other nutrient categories, keeps me satiated. Who knows how health outcomes might be impacted? I'm much more concerned about other factors as drivers of health outcomes, especially unemployment, alienation, and CREEPY letters, emails, and phone calls from revenue and student loan collectors! YIKES! hugs! And be well in peace--with or without you Fitbit! :)

  6. Dear hopefulandfree,

    You're absolutely right: the Fitbit is creepy.

    I've been mulling over a post on the "dark side" for quite a while now. I think I'm scared to write it.

    And in the meantime, the Fitbit's working it creepy magic on me...