The Activity Tracker Debate – My Fitbit Experience

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Do you wear an activity tracker? A Fitbit, Polar, or Garmin? There’s so many brands out there now for a type of technology that really exploded onto the scene a couple of years ago. Suddenly, it was all the rage to have a band on your wrist telling you your daily steps, your heart rate, sleep cycle, calories burned – people were both fascinated and wary of these new insights into their health.

Then my second question…do activity trackers WORK? Hmm. Good one. To be honest, having read into this a little, and listened to a great Podcast by Scott Baptie on this topic, the jury would say that no, the studies to date show that activity trackers do NOT work for everyone, for either health benefits or behaviour change. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. Are we all the same? No. Do we all have the same body shape, physical abilities, fitness goals, motivations? Double no. So why would a numbers-based activity tracking gadget work for everyone? Simple. They don’t!

FYI: I decided to write this article because I had a lot of thoughts in my head about activity trackers I wanted to share, but mostly because I found the engagement I got from you guys both fascinating and inspiring when I posted about using a Fitbit just before Christmas. The content I write for my blog is pretty much always a mix of my own reflections and ramblings with what you guys ask me to write about or ask questions about! And that’s what I love about it. So I’ll say here that this post is NOT sponsored by Fitbit, Specially For You Nutrition, or even F45 Training (I mention it below!), in case anyone was wondering. Now, onto Ciara’s ramblings, what I do best!

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I now hear you ask  -‘But Ciara…then why are you writing about this?’ Good question! The answer? Because by chance, I recently became the proud owner of a Fitbit, and when I posted about it on Instagram, you guys were brilliant in sharing your own experience with one, and also asked me to share mine!

Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to be the winner of an Instagram competition organised by Specially For You, a company specialising in whey protein powder for women. I’ve tried the Specially For You range before, and loved the flavour – Chocolate Coconut (they also do Matcha Green Tea and Mango Passion Fruit!) is the best in my opinion! My prize was a gorgeous Christmas Hamper of Specially For You goodies, AND a Fitbit! Unbelievable right?

I’ve been curious about activity trackers, especially the Fitbit (I like their design and colours the best!) particularly over the past year. Not enough to actually purchase one yet, though I had considered buying one in the post-Christmas sales. So this prize took the decision out of my hands! Thank you again to Specially For You for a great competition, I’m really grateful!

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Easily my favourite Specially For You flavour – Chocolate Coconut! 

So, why my Fitbit curiosity? Good question. If you follow me on Instagram and/or this blog, you’ll know that I am ALL about the balance in life, even if I have to remind myself of that sometimes! So using an activity tracker to tell me my exact step count, calorie burn, maximum heart rate during exercise, sleep quality – to be honest, its more numbers than I want to live my life by. There’s a reason this chicka stopped tracking macros last year. I’ve gotten to a much better understanding of myself and what my body and mind need day to day based on intuition. If that sounds a bit fluffy to you, that’s fine, but I stand by it. When I’m sweating out a spin class, a run, or weights session I can feel my heart pumping – I know my body is working hard. My goal is balance, not weight loss, so calorie surplus and deficits aren’t something I need (or want!) to track.

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However, I have opened this post by saying that I was interested in having an activity tracker. So I’m going to tell you why, by talking a bit about the three reasons for my interest, and why I think those were positives to this Fitbit experience for me.

  1. 10K A Day – Am I achieving my daily activity goal?

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I’m a teensy bit fascinated by the 10,000 steps a day target. I do watch my own daily step count, always aiming for that 10k as a minimum. The Fitbit does it much more accurately than my phone app, as it’s more precise technology and is constantly on my person. I’ve found that if I do a cardio workout like running or a long walk, my step count is of course a good deal higher on that day. In general, I aim for a 10,000 step a day minimum, and as my day job has me running around the hospital all day, I didn’t really need a Fitbit to tell me I was achieving it! But what was funny to see what how many MORE steps I do in a day, even just from activity around the house – more reasons to cook and meal prep! I’m really interested in the current and emerging research into the health effects of prolonged sedentary or seated time, and the benefits we see from something as simple as a short stroll around the house/office every hour to break that up. The Fitbit prompts me every hour to get moving if I haven’t done so in a while, and aims for a 250 steps an hour minimum. It also has a big party on the screen when I reach 10,000 steps – it’s hilarious!

  1. Am I fuelling my body sufficiently for the activity it does?

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Although I’ve said I don’t live my life by numbers (and that’s true), it has been interesting to see my Fitbit estimate my daily calories burned. I sometimes find that I underestimate how active I actually am, and sometimes miss the mark for simply eating enough in a day, with my busy job on the wards at the hospital, regular gym schedule and cardio activity like running and spinning. I’ve found it helpful to see an estimate of how much energy my body uses day to day, and how that varies depending on weekdays, weekends, days on call, night shifts, rest days, etc. It turns out I’m as active as I thought I was – averaging from 16,000 to 20,000 steps a day depending on what days I do cardio workouts or go for a walk outside of my day job. Saying that, I don’t think my Fitbit Alta is that accurate for my calorie burn on days when I weight train, or do a spin class, as (unlike the Fitbit Charge) it doesn’t have the option to switch to ‘Weights’ or ‘Bike’ mode. You can log the activity on the phone app however, to add in the estimated calorie burn. (Which I don’t, by the way).

  1. My Sleep Hygiene and Quality – Rested or Restless?

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Finally, the Fitbit App allows me to track my sleep, and THAT is really frickin’ cool, as it’s a lifestyle pillar I’m always working on. Every night, I’ve been logging my sleep for the past few weeks, and its fascinating to see the times during the night the Fitbit logs me as being ‘restless’, and then ultimately estimates how much ACTUAL sleep I’ve gotten – it’s less than my set standard of 7.5 hours a night! To be fair, its something I’ve been making an effort on over the past few months, aiming for 7.5 – 8 as a minimum, and I’ve been achieving 7.5 or just under for the most part.

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Those are the three reasons I wanted to try a Fitbit, and they are also the positives I have taken from the experience. I’m holding up my hand and saying quite frankly (this won’t be a surprise to many of you who know me!) that I don’t need a Fitbit or similar gadget to motivate me to exercise. I love physical activity, I am lucky in that I always have. But I think overall, these stylish little trackers are a positive thing. If they help even a handful of people focus on a numeric goal, even if it’s something as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day, that is awesome. There is, however, a fear out there that ultimately these gadgets and the information they store will be used by insurance companies and employers, and/or just widely available in the vast world of the internet. I don’t dispute that, it does seem that the quicker technology advances, more and more personal information is shared. But it’s beyond my own knowledge to talk about that any further, so I won’t!

Finally, I want to briefly talk about two points of interest from the past two weeks I wanted to share while using my Fitbit. First, as you might know, I finished seven night shifts straight on Monday morning. As I post this today (4 days later), my body clock is FINALLY back normal. It was reaaally fascinating to see the Fitbit track my steps during nights, especially as my active hours were totally reversed (my night shifts are 10pm to anything from 9am/11am), with nocturnal steps and sometimes a morning workout after, plus more or less nothing as I slept all day! Interestingly, I found my step count and calorie burn over a 24 hour period were essentially the same. Then again, it was a very busy week of nights, as anyone watching the current news headlines in Ireland and the UK about A&E overcrowding will know! Second, this week I took on a new fitness challenge, starting F45 IFSC classes. I tried the strength-based Romans class, more cardio-style Athletica and Hollywood classes. My Fitbit was as expected on those days – logging less steps with a weight-based workout, and more with the endurance classes. On a side note – if you’re Dublin-based and looking to try a new fitness challenge in 2018, I would recommend checking out F45 – they’re running a two week free trial offer at the moment! I’m a big fan of the style of training and have been for quite some time before it came to Ireland! Have a peek at their website or Instagram if you’re interested!

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Bottom line gang. I love having a Fitbit. I’m proud that I’ve been able to identify positives I can take from the information it gives me, without letting it run my life. I’m going to keep using it, especially as a tool to help me track my sleep. But to balance that out, I will continue to rely on my own physical and mental intuition to tell me when to move, what to eat, and ultimately how to live.

If you use an activity tracker, share your experience! Leave a comment here, send me a DM or email, let me know what you think of it! I would love to hear. As always, you can find me here or @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!

Ciara x

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