This thing is on my wrist. Why did I choose to put it there? What possible good can come from strapping on some electronic tagging device to my person? After logging thousands of steps, I’m debating the idea of wearing a smartwatch 24×7.
Is a Fitbit worth it? Even with a fairly modest $150 investment?
I bought my Charge 3 about two months ago. After a long winter with less than ideal exercise habits, I felt I needed to go “all in” on fitness accountability. No more excuses, Cubert! So after a little online research, I went with the Charge 3.
Part of the inspiration came from Mrs. Cubert. She’s got a fancy Garmin fitness watch. That thing tracks everything, even her toe stubs, and stink eyes. (Love you, Honey!)
For someone like my wife who’s a fitness die-hard, Garmin does it all. I figured if that gadget could keep her that engaged then maybe a similar strap-on would be up my alley. Enter Fitbit.
A Little Background on Fitbit
Fitbit operates out of San Francisco and was founded way, way back in 2007. A few studies have come out giving this device the middle finger of sorts. Some claim that wearables, like Fitbit, are less effective for weight loss than standard weight programs without the wearable.
Adding insult to injury, other studies have shown that wrist-based devices overestimate steps taken and calories burned. Now that’s not quite as insidious as the Volkswagen emissions scandal, but some fitness fanatics cry foul on $h*t like that.
Take my wife for instance. She’s competitive and swears by the accuracy of her Garmin. So when we’re neck and neck on steps for the day, she poo-poos my results out of hand.
Granted, just last week I noticed I was getting “steps” while simply driving home from happy hour. How’s THAT for tracking worthwhile activity? Lift a beer for a few hours, and get some steps by twisting the steering wheel. (Yes, I only had one beer. If I’d ridden my bike to work that day, I’d have had two.)
C’mon Fitbit – Fix it
Those few warts aside, Fitbit continues to prosper. Its sales rank just behind leader Apple, and its reach is global. Winners of all sorts of tech awards, Fitbit is always coming out with something new and enticing. I picked up the Charge 3 because they finally made the Charge in a waterproof design.
For lazy types like me, that meant not having to remove the device when showering. (Plus, you do get a few steps in the shower, right?)
Worth It – If You Care About 10,000 Steps Daily
Here’s the thing. We know from studies that wearables don’t move the needle like we’d expect or hope them to do. Someone looking to lose a few pounds or improve his or her activity level probably won’t change habits enough for the device to make a difference.
BUT. This writer is married to the most competitive athlete in the universe. And THAT can make all the difference. For my Fitbit Charge 3 (which I paid $150 for the privilege of guarding 1/2″ of my wrist) to work, it’s all about accountability.
If I didn’t have a partner with a high level of accountability for her fitness, I probably would wind up wearing my Fitbit as nothing more than another timepiece. And heck, I don’t need a watch.
That’s what my iPhone is for! Thing is, I DO have a hard-driving partner, and it makes a big difference in how I approach every day. Competing for steps is a fun contest. And it’s not an easy one, particularly for those of us strapped into cubicles all day long…
Thank goodness I work at a fairly large campus with good, long walking lanes. Whenever I have a 1:1 meeting, I’ll push for a walk and talk. Man, those are soo much better than sit-down meetings. Let the steps pile up, baby!
After a few months, I’ve gotten close to hitting an average of 10,000 steps a day. But, if my Fitbit is counting steps while driving, should I up my step goal to 11,000? Curious… How does one account for FitBit’s desire to tack on steering a car and lifting a beer to mouth as steps?
Don’t let the alleged inaccuracies dissuade you from buying a Fitbit. Just ratchet up your step goal to calibrate. There’s always another software update around the corner to patch up these bugs… Are you listening, Fitbit engineers?
How the Charge Works With Bikes and Rowers
This is the cool part for me. My wrist hardly moves at all when I’m cycling, but my Fitbit picks up the activity, and voila – after 10 miles of riding into the office, about 5,000 steps have been auto-magically logged. SCORE! I wasn’t sure how this would work before I bought the device, so it was a delightful discovery.
There must be some algorithm that converts cycling to steps using heart rate and vibration. Regardless, I’ll take those steps, thank you very much!
And thanks to Bluetooth, text messages get zapped over to my Fitbit. That’s kind of neat, both while biking and driving. (Or, when meeting with your boss and you don’t want to blatantly / rudely check your phone.)
Granted, the connection with my iPhone 6 isn’t super consistent. Sometimes texts take a while to zap over and sometimes they don’t zap at all.
I’ve found mixed results when it comes to rowing. The tracker used to credit me loads of steps after a 10-minute rowing session. But lately, I only get a few token steps. I bet a software update reduced the sensitivity with rowing-like actions.
I’m hopeful Fitbit will add a “Rowing” category to its set of pre-programmed exercises. Rowing is an excellent full-body workout and I’d argue one stroke should equal one step at least!
Update 8/16/22: Apparently you can sync FitBit with your Peloton stationary bike. I haven’t tried it yet, as I’m now wearing a Withings smartwatch. 😉
How Fitbit Supports a Healthy Retirement
Well, I can tell you where Fitbit does NOT align with FIRE. For one thing, it’s another electronic device added to the mix. Another gadget to remind you of what you’re not doing right, or that you should not be simply relaxing.
I’ll be sitting on the couch ready to just put my feet up in the middle of the day on a weekend when I get that little buzz vibration: “You need 25 more steps to hit 250 for this hour”. Dang, it! Leave me alone!!
Plus, Fitbits aren’t free. If you don’t have $150 to blow on a fancy tracker, save your coin. I’m enjoying the novelty of this device, but it’ll wear thin after a while.
I’ve also got the luxury of a partner to compete on steps with, which can be a fun contest for the sake of fitness. If you don’t have a partner or friend to have a little fun competition with, the device-inspired accountability fades a bit I reckon.
Short of buying a tracker? Make it a habit to walk whenever you get the opportunity. Park your car at the end of the lot. Do your 1:1s as walk-and-talks. Ride your bike to work!
The FIRE crowd tends to be a minimalist bunch, even if we would convulse with a nervous breakdown without our smartphones and laptops… So there’s probably a smaller subset of the writers I’m familiar with who use trackers. To each his or her own. I think it looks good on my wrist.
Before I Lay Me Down to Sleep
One last note before we sign off for the holiday weekend. Fitbit does sleep tracking, and that’s also a love-hate aspect of this tech for yours truly. It is, far and away, and pretty darn cool thing to check out how well you slept the night before. Did you know that one hour of deep sleep is enough for most middle-aged people? The rest is a mix of light sleep and REM sleep or something.
The hate part? It’s comical. I’ll be lying on the sofa watching the tube before bedtime. Fitbit thinks I’m asleep while watching Colbert, Parks and Recreation, or whatnot. Who would have thought that an hour of nightly TV before bed counts as sleep?? Thank you, Fitbit!!
Again, take all this with a grain of salt. The device does a decent job of tracking deep sleep – and that’s the kind of sleep I think we all need the most. Especially after a long day of corporate combat in cubicle-land! (But it wouldn’t hurt to get an update to fix this whole Charge 3 counting steps while driving issue!)
Join the Legion of Cubicle Doom!
Sign up to have new posts and special updates sent directly to your inbox.
Ben Zabulis says
Have to admit Cubert I’ve resisted having a FitBit probably for the reason you gave, being just another device to own (or own us). Somebody once bought me a pedometer years ago but I chucked it at the first opportunity, especially as you then had to cash out on batteries to power the thing. I’ve since decided that the best and cheapest option when it comes to fitness is simply to listen to your body – I do and we seem quite happy together ! Have a great holiday weekend !
Ben! Thanks for commenting on this wacky one! I am ultimately with you on this argument. After all, I went several years without even an ounce of interest. It was liberating to be free of a wrist watch with the advent of cell phones. But alas, here I am, with this rubberized box of circuits on my wrist, typing to you. Well, I kind of appreciate having a watch again, and so long as it prompts me to go for a walk, I’ll see where it takes me.
My friend is letting me borrow a fit bit model she doesn’t use. I’m not a watch wearer, so I wanted to see if I could stick with it before committing my.own cash. We’ve since agreed I’ll pay her for this one as I have taken a liking to it. 🙂
We have had walking challenges at work and trying to use my phone as a step counter wasn’t working out great. I’ve found this while not perfect, is a better option for me.
The sleep tracking is fun. I am finding it motivation to be better about getting to bed sooner. I have felt that I’m a light sleeper but never had proof, so I’m also interested in how much deep, light, REM and awake/ disturbed sleeping is going on.
Good work on that strategy! If you can borrow one for a week or so, you get a feel for whether wearing this device 24×7 is up your alley. What model?
I’m with you on the sleep tracking too. Now that I know how valuable those sleep stages are, I’m doing a little bit more to ensure a good night’s sleep. Just need to stop hitting that snooze every morning!
I too have a love-hate relationship with my Fitbit. Sadly I have had multiple different ones over the years and the one I have now is the Fitbit Ionic as I love to track my running. However, with that said someone at Fitbit needs to fix the blue tooth connectivity between the watch and your phone as I have to power both off and one twice sometimes in order to get them to sync. Really a pain when traveling timezones and you want your watch right :).
I do still like it though and works for what I want step tracking, running distance tracking, and sleep tracking (so I know how bad I sleep some nights). Just wish the connectivity was more reliable.
Thanks for sharing! I didn’t realize what a pain the sync was on the Ionic. So far my Charge 3 syncs alright – just takes a minute, sometimes a little more to complete. My wife’s Garmin? I never hear her complain about the sync process on that.
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
Yeah I wondered about the accuracy of FitBits long before the studies came out, so they just confirmed what I already suspected: swinging your arms isn’t always a good indicator of steps taken.
Still, it sounds like you’re getting some functionality out of it, which is what matters in a purchase. So I’d count this as a win, even if you have mixed feelings about the device.
Right on. I look at it this way — there aren’t too many activities where you wave your wrist around all that much. But it is flippin funny how it captures steps while you’re DRIVING. My wife was good about pointing out to me though the other day, that her fancy Garmin with GPS also has a bad habit of tracking “steps” while driving. So it seems like a more common, device agnostic problem than one limited to FitBit.