By now I'm sure you've heard of them. They go by many names: fitness tracker, Fitbit, wearables, pedometer, Apple Watch, and can range in price from a few dollars to several hundred. While functions and abilities vary throughout the price range, at the core of it all, the goal of owning one is to motivate the wearer to be healthy.
Full disclosure: I personally was always very skeptical of these type of devices. My opinion was that they were gimmicky and after a week of use, the shine would wear off and it would end up in a dusty drawer along with my other poor purchase decisions (like my astronaut pen – I never did need to write anything upside down).
As time went on however, and the popularity of Fitbits and other similar gadgets increased, friends, family and even colleagues in the health space started using them and raving about how they're helping them stay motivated, moving and well ... healthy.
So based on the glowing recommendations, Joy, Kate and myself bought Fitbits (the Fitbits were not given to us) and embarked on a 30-day challenge to dive in and test it for ourselves. My personal motivation was to see whether it would motivate me to move more throughout the day, as I was finding myself sitting too much, for too long without breaks.
As a pretty active person, sitting for long periods of time wasn't something I was very used to, and it was starting to take its toll with my back feeling weaker, my hips tighter and all of the other negative health affects associated with sitting (which is why they call it the new smoking).
So how did we like our Fitbits? In short - we were all big fans.
(For a detailed review of features/functions, scroll down as Kate goes pretty in-depth)
The big difference for me was awareness. Between hourly movement reminders, tracking my steps, and a feature that lets you challenge other friends to see who can step the most, I really found it made a difference in my level of awareness of what I was doing, or more often not doing.
In fact, Joy and I would find ourselves looking for ways to get more our steps in our day, even if it meant fitting in another walk, an extra session at the gym, or simply walking around our condo in circles like a couple of idiots :) As it turns out, this little piece of technology made a big difference in our day-to-day routines; a difference that continues almost three months later ...
Except for Joy. She's lost two Fitbits off her wrist (or as she puts it - they fell off), so if anyone from Fitbit is reading this, she would love another Alta (size small, turquoise band) as seen above. Thanks!
Now I'm going to hand it over to our resident tech nerd Kate. Since one of her favourite things to do (both professionally and recreationally) is to test gadgets and software to their breaking points, I'll let her breakdown the functions and features of the Fibit she tested for you.
Kate's Fitbit Flex Review
It’s probably safe to say that I’m the biggest tech and data nerd at Joyous HQ. I’m also the kind of person who gets grumpy if they don’t get their requisite amount of physical activity every day. Put these two factors together and I’m pretty much Fitbit’s ideal customer.
I decided to put the Fitbit Flex through its paces by tracking everything the Flex was capable of tracking (different Fitbit models can gather different types of data). So aside from the usual number of steps, distance and calories burned each day, I also tracked my workouts, sleep patterns, how much water I drank every day, and I set a weight loss goal for myself (combination of tracking weight and calories consumed).
The usual steps, distance and daily calories burned are no-brainers to track, as are sleep patterns. Just wear the Fitbit (yes, even when you’re sleeping) and it takes care of the rest, syncing the data wirelessly to your smartphone so you can see your stats. I loved collecting all the data, and was kind of blown away how many kilometers I rack up on a daily basis just doing errands. The app is super-intuitive and easy to interpret. All of your data is displayed in attractive-looking charts with modifiable date ranges to look at your progress over time. (I use an iPhone, but I had a peek at the Android app on my husband’s phone, and it looks just as good). Also, there are badges. I do love a good bit of gamification, and Fitbit’s ability to allow me to cheer and/or taunt my friends and co-workers on their daily step counts, as well as send me the occasional badge informing me I have walked the equivalent of the length of the London Underground makes fitness tracking just that little bit more fun.
Exercise Tracking and Logging
Workouts are also pretty easy to track. If running, walking or hiking is your thing, just press “track,” select one of those three activities and get moving. Fitbit and GPS will do the rest. I really like having little maps of my runs. (I may have used one or two to humblebrag on Facebook, sorry. It seems to be an unavoidable runner bad habit.) If workout classes where you don’t really log kilometers are your thing, you use the log function and select your activity and the length of time. It's not as precise as the track function, but it’ll give you a ballpark figure for calories burned. I used this to log my yoga and barre classes as well as swimming laps.
Speaking of swimming laps, this brings me to one of my few beefs with the Fitbit: it’s not waterproof. Fitbit claims their trackers are splashproof and rainproof (I’ve run with mine in the rain, and that claim holds up), but unlike fitness tracker makers like Misfit (which even has a version designed with swimming in mind), you can’t use it to track laps of the pool, you've got to count them yourself and input the data afterward. Since counting laps is my least favourite part of pooltime, this was kind of a downer.
My other concern about the Fitbit also has to do with its exercise tracking function, and that has to do with its accuracy. Now, the Flex doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, unlike some of the fancier Fitbit models, so I realize that there’s only so much accuracy that can be expected. However, when I tracked a single run with both the Fitbit and my usual training app on my phone, I always came up with a noticeable difference in how many calories I burned, often by over 100 calories. Since the Fitbit number was always higher, I’d really like it to be the right one, but I’m skeptical. I know I’m just not that fast a runner.
Food and Water Intake Tracking
And speaking of calories, I also played around with the food tracking function. The library of foods Fitbit has stored in its database is huge. It was extremely rare that I had to enter custom food data in there myself and do my own calorie math, so it’s a pretty solid tool of calorie tracking is part of your wellness regimen.
But there’s a downside to this ease that I can’t ignore. Part of the reason calorie counting has never been part of the Joyous Health philosophy is that it’s way too easy to get obsessed with numbers, and nothing kills your enjoyment of food faster than having to do a whole bunch of math and then feel bad about how you’re over your calorie count for that day. This app speeds up the guilt process by turning my cute little plate icon an angry shade of red once I go over my allotted calorie count for the day. Not so joyous. If you know that this sort of tracking leaves you feeling anxious, rather than empowered, you might want to skip this feature.
I am totally down with the water tracking feature, though! I also love that there are quick add options for a glass of water, a bottle, or a large bottle so that you can log water intake with a single touch. I knew I was bad about drinking enough water, but I didn’t realize how bad until I started keeping track. Counting steps is great, but Fitbit’s greatest contribution to my health is to make me better at staying hydrated!
Kate's Final Thoughts
Overall, the Fitbit Flex is a great entry-level tracker, and if you’re looking for something to just track daily steps, sleep and eating patterns, it should do just fine. But if you’re a swimmer, or are looking for something with pinpoint accuracy to track hardcore workouts, you might want to look at something specifically targeted at athletes.
Walker's Final Throughts
So what's my big takeaway? For many of us, technology is unavoidable. The more we find ourselves connected with technology, the more important it becomes to find a way to leverage it to help us improve, if not simply maintain, our health. In the case of the Fitbit, it satisfied that requirement step by step.