December 14, 2014

Review of the Fitbit One

Fitbit One
As you will undoubtedly guess from the name of this blog, most of what I post here has to do with atheism, skepticism, reason, secularism, and the like. I also like to write off-topic posts from time-to-time, and this will be one of them. I enjoy reading product reviews from atheist bloggers I respect (here's a recent example), and it has been a long time since I've written one. With that in mind, I thought I'd write about a gadget I've been using every day for almost a year: the Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker.

Background

Like many people in the United States, I have been overweight for some time. This was not an issue in my youth, but it would slowly become one as I aged. Some of this may be due to changes in my metabolism, but there are plenty of more obvious contributing factors. I am much less active than I used to be, as the the bulk of my workdays are spent sitting at a desk. My stress level is far higher than in used to be, and I find that it is difficult for me to find the time to cook healthy meals that I enjoy.

Toward the end of last year, I decided that it was time to start making some changes and see if I could shed some weight, form some more healthy habits, and stick to them. Since dieting has never produced lasting results, I decided that I would need to do three things if I was serious about dropping some weight and keeping it off:
  1. Consume fewer calories.
  2. Burn more calories by increasing my daily activity level.
  3. Eat healthier.
I'm happy to report that I have made significant progress in each of these areas and that I have found the Fitbit One very helpful for increasing my activity level, obtaining immediate feedback about my progress, and turning the changes in activity into habits I have been able to sustain over time.

What is the Fitbit One?

The Fitbit One is a tiny wireless pedometer that fits in a pocket or clips to a belt. I usually just drop mine in a pants pocket each morning. It tracks the number of steps I take each day, distance traveled, stairs climbed, and calories burned. Unlike a traditional pedometer, no sort of calibration was necessary before starting to use it. It can also be strapped to one's forearm at night to track sleep, but I have never used that particular function and will not comment on it here.

The device is designed to sync with a smartphone via Bluetooth and comes with a dongle that allows it to sync to a computer. I use both features and have found that they work quite well. The synced data are displayed in slick graphs that make it easy to look at one's activity level throughout the day and to track progress over time. You can see more about how this works on the Fitbit website.

The primary numbers I utilize are the number of steps/day and number of "very active" minutes/day (i.e., the minutes one spends walking or running fast enough to get the heart rate up). I've tested my Fitbit enough to be convinced that these numbers are accurate. On the other hand, I have not been at all impressed with its tracking the number of floors climbed. It tends to overestimate the number of floors I've actually climbed.

In addition to the sleep tracking function I mentioned that mentioned above, there are plenty of other features I have not used, most of which involve integrated social media (e.g., one can send out social media posts about one's progress) or the option to manually data for tracking purposes (e.g., the food one eats to determine caloric intake, amount of water one drinks). I have been manually entering weight and blood pressure data and have found this to be very useful. It is cool to be able to enter one's target weight and then track progress toward that goal.

My Use of the Fitbit One

For me, it is all about having data to inform my decisions and track my progress. I started by using the Fitbit One daily for two weeks without making any attempt to increase my activity level (i.e., baseline data). What I learned by doing this was that I was far more sedentary than I had realized. I was not even close to hitting the mark of 10,000 steps per day that is often recommended.

I spent the next two weeks being far more conscious of my activity level and looking for casual opportunities to increase it. I parked farther away from where I was going, took the longer route between rooms at work, and looked for opportunities to walk more during my typical day. The data reflected a small improvement. My hope that several small changes like this would add up to something significant were soon dashed. More effort was going to be needed.

Running-on-treadmills-motion-blur.jpg
"Running-on-treadmills-motion-blur" від Brandon.wiggins
What I would soon learn is that the only way I could reliability hit the 10,000 step mark on an average workday was to devote some real time to walking and/or running in a more dedicated exercise routine. I could get close on a weekend day if I was running several errands or doing yard work, but to do it every single day was going to require some dedicated exercise time. And that is what I have been doing since last January. I started slowly and worked my way up to around 60 minutes/day of fast walking to slow running.

I have the Fitbit One configured so that I get a notification on my phone when I am getting close to my daily goal (e.g., "You have 1,7800 steps left before reaching your goal"). That helps motivate me to keep going. I also receive emails automatically that inform me of various milestones. That helps the motivation a bit.

What initially seemed like a challenge (i.e., consistently walking over 10,000 steps per day and getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise sufficient to get my heart rate into the target zone) is now something I do almost without thinking about it. It has just become part of my daily routine.

I have managed to lose 30 pounds and 2 inches from my waistline and to maintain this progress for a couple months. While eating less and healthier are part of this, I am confident that my increase in activity has played a major role. While I believe I could have done this without using an activity tracker, I am convinced that it helped.

What About the Wrist Strap Models?

One of the things that makes the Fitbit One fairly unique is that it is one of the few available wireless activity monitors that is designed to fit in a pocket instead of being a wearable wrist strap. This was what made it appealing to me. I didn't want a wrist strap model because I didn't want to have to wear anything on my wrist. I wasn't interested in having it be visible to others, and I read that some of the wrist strap models can be difficult to get on and off quickly. I've been happy with the form of the Fitbit One, and I like that I can drop it in a pocket and go.

Having said that, it is clear that the wrist strap models are far more popular and offer some advantages that might make them worth considering if you don't mind having to wear one. Assuming one wears the strap all the time, it would be hard to forget in the morning, make it easier to track sleep, and offer the potential for heart rate tracking (Fitbit is about to release a more expensive wrist strap model that adds continuous heart rate tracking).

Fitbit Flex
I recently had the opportunity to do some comparisons between my Fitbit One and one of the wrist strap models, a Fitbit Flex. Getting the Flex on and off my wrist was somewhat challenging, but I think I could have gotten used to it. What I did not like about it was that I found the Flex to be much less accurate, as it counted arm movements as steps. For example, kneeling in a flowerbed while weeding was counted as steps because of the arm motions involved. By comparison, my Fitbit One did not count this activity. Strangely, Fitbit is marketing this type of inaccuracy as a feature rather than a bug. I suppose they are technically correct to suggest that the wrist strap models provide a more complete reflection of one's daily activities; however, I see little point in counting arm movements when what I'm interested in tracking is the number of steps I take. I want to know how much I'm walking; the Fitbit Flex reported chopping onions on a cutting board as steps.

Concluding Thoughts

I've been very happy with the Fitbit One's size, form factor, accuracy in counting steps, and how easily it syncs with my smartphone and computer. The web-based log works well and allows me to view the data it collects, track my progress, and set various goals. While I have not bothered with it, I would imagine that the online community of users and capability to send social media updates could be helpful to some seeking help to stay motivated, learn from others, and the like.

While I do think the Fitbit One is expensive for what it does (I bought mine for on sale for $86), I also recognize that the ease of use of the syncing and the slick manner in which I can view the data has kept me using it long after I would have abandoned a traditional pedometer without such features. That has made it worth the cost for me. If mine were to stop working tomorrow, I'd almost certainly buy another one.

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