Feeling Your FitBit
by Juliana Gildesgame, DPT
As of 2013, approximately one in 18 Americans owns an activity tracker like a Fitbit band, according to an Endeavor poll. Word of my curiosity with these activity trackers got out and I received one as a birthday present. I consider myself a pretty active person unless a new season of House of Cards is on. I was excited to see how active I was each day, and I imagined it would validate my insatiable appetite for string cheese and animal crackers.
As you may have guessed, the answer is no. My activity level cannot explain my appetite. Even though I am not sitting the majority of the day, I am not taking many steps around the office. So I became interested in the research, do steps really matter? Isn’t it just as good if not better, to take a fun yoga or barre class?
Apparently the number of steps we take in one day is important, and cannot be substituted for another form of movement. According to a 2009 study, prolonged inactivity is connected with a higher death rate. Participants in the study who met the physical activity requirement did not have a significantly improved death rate. This may be because the human body is designed to be active throughout the day, rather than largely sedentary with activity punctuations. 2
Activity monitors accurately tell us how many steps we take each day and can be used to monitor our progress towards our short-term activity goals. 3A wristband activity monitor’s essential function is to count your steps, just like a traditional pedometer would. Strong evidence shows that people who use pedometers “increased their physical activity by 2491 steps per day more than control participants,” which is “ 26.9% over baseline.” 3 This is little over 2 miles for the average person. In looking at the number of steps you take, you can get a sense of how active you are in your overall lifestyle Then you can work toward small, measurable daily goals to become more active.
Many people attest to the Fitbits role in helping them to lose weight. But when I dug deeper on the internet, I found a contingency of people who claim that their activity monitors caused them to gain weight. Theoretically, activity monitors estimate your total calories burned, and give a guideline for how many calories you should consume to achieve your goal weight. This equation, however, does not include a look at your hormones or your overall metabolic rate. Just because your device tells you that you are burning calories, doesn’t mean that its taking into account when and how your eating.4
Other people start wearing an activity monitor to improve their sleep. Most activity monitors assess sleep by tracking how much motion you make during sleeping hours. If you are still during nighttime hours, your activity monitor logs assumes you are asleep. Polysomnography is the gold standard test for sleeping and determines sleep by brain wave activity, oxygenation of the blood, eye movements as well as heart rate and breathing patterns. 5Largely, activity trackers look at movement during sleep time and correlate movement with times of less deep sleep or wakefulness. Studies cite conflicting reports about the Fitbit’s accuracy for measuring sleep, some citing over reporting and some reporting underreporting.5 An activity tracker’s assessment of your sleep can give you information that you can correlate with other parts of your life to look for patterns that help you to sleep better. I had difficulty sleeping with my Fitbit because I found it uncomfortable on my wrist and it seemed somehow wrong to me to think about my sleep in terms of a chart that demonstrates success. When I think about sleep, I want to feel cozy, I want to feel rested and refreshed and I want to feel my dreams. I could look for patterns in my sleep habits to help me sleep better, but when it comes to sleep, I’d rather feel more and think less.
I’ve enjoyed being more aware of how much I walk, and I’ve noticed that I sleep better and feel more productive when I walk more. I have been encouraged to change my exercise routine and incorporate more time walking and hiking. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when I wear my Fitbit I’m more motivated to take the extra steps to take out the trash and to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I have accepted that my Fitbit doesn’t give me full credit for the physical work that I do, or the classes that I take and that there is not a magical number of steps that I can take to feel like I can eat as many animal crackers as I want to. I learned that I am resistant to taking each night’s sleep apart each morning and that the only thing I would like to be in my bed besides my husband is my eye mask.
Activity trackers can be a useful tool for weight loss, increasing overall daily activity and being aware of your sleeping patterns. Take the information as part of the story of your day and your evening, but also, consider how you feel. Did you sleep well? If your activity monitor tells you that you woke up 30 times, does that in and of itself make the day feel slow? If your activity monitor gives you permission to have a second serving of food, do you really feel hungry? When it comes to health, the most important information is what and how you feel. Let your activity monitor give you information, but don’t let it drown out the valuable information of your own experience. As Physical Therapists, we help you interpret objective information about your movement and integrate it with your own body awareness. Contact Physical Therapists at Century City PT to learn how to optimize your activity and your rest to meet your personal goals.
- The Future of Activty Trackers (Part 3): The Secret to Long Term Engagement. Endeavor Partners. Available at: http://endeavourpartners.net/the-future-of-activity-trackers-part-3-the-secret-to-long-term-engagement/
- Cortese-Shipley, Gina. Physically active with a sedentary lifestyle: Are you at risk? Today I will. Available at: http://todayiwill.com/2010/02/physically-active-with-a-sedentary-lifestyle-are-you-at-risk/#.VQceUGTF_9t.
- Bravata D, Smith-Spangler C, Sundaram V et al. Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health. JAMA. 2007: 298; 19: 2296-2304.
- Uris, J. My fitness band is making me fat: Users complain of weight gain with trackers. Today Health. Available at: http://www.today.com/health/my-fitbit-making-me-fat-users-complain-weight-gain-fitness-1D79911176.
- Polysomnography (sleep study) Mayo Clinic. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/polysomnography/basics/definition/prc-20013229
- Takacs J, Pollock C, Guenther J et al. Validation of the Fitbit One activity device during treadmill walking. Journ of Science and Medicine in Sport. Sept 2014: 17; 5: 496-500.