Kaitlin’s (Real World) Experience with a Fitbit
“Sitting is the new smoking.”
By Kaitlin Pisano
This phrase has become HUGELY popular recently in the corporate world of health and wellness. My 9-5 full-time gig is in an office, where I spend most of my day sitting on my butt staring at a computer screen, and I bet that’s the case for a LOT of your clients.
Since my job involves working with Human Resources departments across many different industries, I have a unique perspective on what office culture is like at different companies. One thing I’ve noticed recently is a huge push in the direction of health and wellness.
Think about it: if you run a company, you want it to be as efficient as possible. If your employees are unhealthy, they’ll call out of work sick, need to go to doctor’s appointments, and cut down on productivity. That’s why tons of larger employers will offer flu shot clinics during work hours, or wellness programs for their employees.
These wellness programs vary – some might include Zumba, yoga classes, or walking groups during lunch or after hours. Others replace junk food in the vending machines with healthier options, or even bring licensed dieticians for food demos and recipe sharing.
My company is in the healthcare industry, so we go big – every employee was given a Fitbit Zip (the tiny one that clips to your pocket). Naturally, I lost mine almost immediately, but not too soon to not get hooked to tracking my steps, having weekly challenges with coworkers and other friends, and tracking other activities on the app. I upgraded out of my own pocket to the Flex (their basic bracelet design) and haven’t looked back!
My company has walking challenges that run each quarter – for 4 weeks, we need to average 7,000 steps a day for a total of at least 196,000 steps in the 4-week period. If we complete the challenge (they set different office locations against each other), we get bragging rights AND points that will eventually result in additional money applied to our health insurance expenses the following year. It’s a pretty sweet deal!
My Flex measures steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, and sleep patterns. Other models measure stairs climbed, heartrate, and have GPS tracking. I’ve learned I pretty much don’t sleep through the night – I’m more restless than I thought! I’m working on this by trying to remove electronic stimulation for 30 minutes before I go to bed. It’s not easy!
When you start wearing a Fitbit (or any other activity tracker, I imagine), you stop measuring movement normally. It wasn’t “I went for a 3 mile run” or “I played basketball for an hour.” Instead you celebrate hitting your step goal (which you can adjust from the default 10,000 steps) or a new achievement badge (my newest one is the New Zealand, which means I’ve walked 990 miles – the length of NZ).
The interactive nature of the app (and the competitiveness) really is motivating to move more than I typically would. I’ve taken lunchtime walks or gone to the restroom on the other side of my building, just to add some extra steps. Some nights, I’m pacing around my bedroom because I’m THIS close to hitting my goal. There is an entirely different side of people that is brought out with it!
After wearing my Fitbit pretty regularly for several months, I got to thinking – how accurate is it, really? I found it interesting that on days I didn’t wear my Fitbit at all (either I forgot it, or the battery died – or it didn’t go with my outfit!), it still said I burned about 1055 calories – this was calculated based on my height and weight, which I entered. I compared to the numbers from when Mike did my body comp for BodyEvolver. My resting metabolic rate was 1082 – so Fitbit was actually pretty close!
Measuring distance was a little more complicated. Based on what I knew about my workouts, I could tell it wasn’t totally accurate, so I decided to put it to the test in a couple ways.
Walking my Fitbit … and my dogs!
I ran 1 mile on the treadmill at a 10:00 pace (6 mph). Don’t judge – I hate to run and have tiny legs! According to my Fitbit, however, I only ran .81 miles (1,744 steps). To further test my theory that treadmills were inaccurate, I then lowered the speed to 3 mph and walked .25 miles. My Fitbit read .21 miles (534 steps). On the treadmill, both running and walking, the distance measurements were off by about 20%.
Experiment 2: Walking outside
Since I have two huge dogs (seriously… both weigh more than I do – see pic to the right!) I spend a lot of time walking them outside when the weather cooperates. Using MapMyRun, I was able to determine exactly the distance of one of our walks – 1.35 miles. This was a slooow walk – about 2.6 mph. My dogs like to sniff! What I found interesting, though, was that my Fitbit was pretty on point – it tracked 1.33 miles of distance and 3,552 steps.
So what did I learn? First, something about moving in place doesn’t cut it for the FitBit – most accurate results will be with actual movement. Also, if you’re using steps as your main goal or focus, you’re actually better off walking than running – you get more steps per mile that way I got almost double the steps walking 1.35 miles than I did running 1 mile. This makes sense if you think about your stride length for walking verses running, but wasn’t something I really considered until I actually tracked it all!
“Steps” are a pretty arbitrary measurement – it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole picture of your workout. Running is definitely more of an aerobic activity than walking, so even though your step count is less, the value of the exercise can be higher. Of course, some of the most important physical activity registers nearly no steps at all – any kind of strength training won’t contribute to your steps (though they might to your calories burned if your device tracks heart rate).
Ultimately, though, I think movement is important, especially for those beginning their fitness journey. If a Fitbit is encouraging even the slightest bit more movement than your typical routine, that’s great! For clients that are new to fitness, Fitbits can be a great way to track daily activity and identify small changes that can make a huge difference and lead to healthier lifestyle choices down the road!
Happy stepping! … because sitting is the new smoking 😉