Tracking is Knowing: The Fitbit

by Jeff V. on March 1, 2013

Last week we talked about the notion of tracking is knowing as it relates to understanding the food you eat (in terms of caloric value and macronutrient breakdown). As I said, it’s probably the biggest step you can take to getting a handle on your health and fitness, because very few people understand how much food, energy-wise, they’re eating on a daily basis.

The next step is understanding how much you’re moving. This isn’t about tracking your workouts – that’s another topic. What I’m talking about here is simply getting a handle on how much you move on a daily basis. Spoiler: it’s astounding how sedentary most of us really are.

Let’s face it: we all pretty much sit around at a desk all day staring at an LCD panel. Or we’re in our cars, sitting, taking calls, listening to the radio. Or we’re at home, sitting on the couch, watching TV or messing around on our iPads.

Very few folks have an ‘active’ job where they have to stand or walk for a good part of every day.

Enter the Fitbit. The Fitbit is a wireless tracking device that clips to your clothes. It has an uncannily accurate gyrocope/accelerometer combination that tracks how many steps you take every day, how many flights of stairs you climb, how far you wind up walking and how many calories you burn. You can even wear it to bed and have it track your sleep quality. Once you set up your profile (which takes into account your gender, age, and weight) and start using the Fitbit, you will have a picture of your quantified-self that you’ve never seen before.

(Note: Fitbit can also track food (like My Fitness Pal, mentioned last week), but I find its database far inferior to My Fitness Pal’s. It can also track workouts and factor them into your activity, but I don’t use that feature because of the specialized workouts I do. If you do fairly standard exercise, Fitbit’s exercise tracking is fantastic and I recommend it.)

I use the Fitbit One, which is the smallest tracker they have, as well as the most feature complete. The battery lasts a solid week (maybe more) between charges. It’s so small you barely notice it.

And there’s the rub: it’s so small, you barely notice it. You need to be very mindful that you’re wearing it, or you will wind up washing whatever piece of clothing it’s attached to, and boom, goodbye Fitbit. That’s the only caveat I’ll yell from the rooftops.

Here are some pics of my Fitbit. This is the basic information you can get from the LCD display:

How many steps I’ve taken.

How many flights of stairs I’ve climbed so far.

The distance I’ve walked so far in miles.

How may calories I’ve burned so far. This is based on my age, gender and weight, which Fitbit uses to calculate your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate.

Finally, your flower. Your Fitbit flower grows or shrinks based on recent activity, so it’s a graphic reminder to get up and move if you see it withered and shrunken.

The default goals Fitbit uses for your daily activity are:

  • Steps: 10,000. This is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. As a general rule, you need to walk somewhere between 3-4 miles to even have a chance at 10K. That’s not too hard, but you must get up and move around regularly to hit the 10K number.
  • Flights of stairs: 10. Pretty easy to hit, especially if you live in a house or work in an office with stairs.

Of course, no biometric tracking endeavor would be complete without a web presence, and here Fitbit doesn’t disappoint. Here’s a snap of my Fitbit ‘dashboard’:

(Click to enlarge)

This, in conjunction with My Fitness Pal, gives you everything you need to know about your current state of food intake/nutrition combined with activity level. This is enough to make meaningful changes in your life. In fact, it’s more than enough. You walk into any doctor’s office with this sort of data, and most likely they won’t know where to begin.

So, the Fitbit one is about a hundred bucks very well spent. I wear mine every day.

If you believe that you will have a harder time getting to where you are going without knowing where you are at the current moment, this is your device.

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