In December almost exactly a year after I gave my husband a Fitbit that I thought might augment his exercise program, he regifted the fancy watch to me. This is a much better match than it was for him.
It works for me because I spend a lot of my time in front of my computer, and the Fitbit and computer are synchronized. I can see how I am doing on my screen. In the beginning, it was just something I thought I would use to see how much, if any, exercise I was getting. For several years I have listened to friends, and often total strangers out in public, discuss their “steps. ‘I have made gentle fun of good friends deciding to walk instead of getting a ride, knowing they were just trying to “get their steps.” In reality, I was a little jealous of the determination.
Fitbit does much more than count steps, although the counting of steps and staircases is prominent in discussions. It is merely the gateway drug to get one hooked on the system. In addition to how many times your feet move, you can measure how much water you drink, how many calories you consume and use, heartbeats per minute, how long and well you sleep.
I started slowly. In the first week, I merely wanted to see how much I moved and set no goals. I still have not set a goal for steps. The second week I had the device was Christmas vacation. I was working at Sunday River, taught a Learn-to-Ski class and racked up 27 flights of stairs walking up the learning slope.
That was an eye-opener! Not that I have not always been aware of the energy expended in some classes, but having it recorded in such a way was incredible. No wonder it is tiring! 27 flights of stairs in 3 hours. There were other flights of stairs during the day, too. Actual stairs I climbed at work and at my condo. (Fitbit only counts climbing up and does so by measuring a change in altitude. The stairway in my house between the first floor and the basement does not register, regardless of how many trips I make up those steps, often carrying full laundry baskets.)
The first thing I decided to play with was weight loss. I entered my current and desired weights along with a time frame to meet the goal. I received a suggestion of how much difference per day between input and output I would need to accomplish the outcome.
Measuring input required that I enter what I was eating. A food diary is often suggested as a tool for changing weight. I’ve found keeping one cumbersome and time-consuming and never continued with it for long. This system calculates the calories, so that is one thing I do not have to do. There are many times I dread having to admit to Fitbit what I have eaten. There are many times I do not meet the required in/out difference. There have been times that I not only did not meet the recommended fewer calories but actually went over the total I had expended during the day. But there have not been many.
It has also led me to make a decision at the time whether or not to eat a particular item. “Do I want to have to write this down?” is the question I have to answer. Obviously, I could simply not enter the data, but who am I trying to trick? Myself! So I type in everything I eat. And, sometimes, I answer in a way that means I do not have it to record.
Next, I began examining my sleep patterns, because both my husband and daughters keep telling me I do not get enough sleep. They are correct, of course. I began with simply paying attention to the length and type of sleep I was getting.
Fitbit produces several types of charting for the amount of time you spend sleeping. These designate light sleep, deep sleep, REM (rapid eye movement; the time you might be dreaming) and awake. There was good news and bad news. I was spending a lot of time either awake or in light sleep and very little in deep sleep most nights. However, I was awake a lot less than I thought and fell asleep a lot sooner than I thought most nights. Then there was the night I crashed and got over seven hours sleep, most of it deep.
Now I have set a goal of seven hours a night. Coupled with my preferred waking up time, Fitbit gives me a buzz when I should be winding down in order to get to bed. I have not yet always obeyed the suggestion. If nothing else, I am aware of when I should be stopping.
In the back of my mind, I know that most of the people who talk about their trackers are trying to accomplish 10,000 steps a day. Ten thousand. I have gotten into the eights and once or twice nines, but usually average between five and six thousand steps a day. I have yet to set a goal. I just keep track.
My life is divided into two very different segments. Part of the time I work as a ski instructor. During that time, I am quite active. Even if I am not working on-snow, from approximately 7:30 am until after 4:00 pm I am wearing ski boots as I clomp around the resort and up and down stairs. The other part of my life finds me in front of a computer for a large part of the day.
The extreme difference between my lifestyles was shocking. I went from a week of well over 6000 steps a day to about 2500 on the first day I was home working in my office. Definitely not a good thing, but, how was I to change? I wasn’t just lounging around. I was working. The things I was doing had to be done. It was hard to find the time to squeeze in the exercises for my physical therapy. Still, sedentary lives are not good for bodies especially as we get older. Something had to change.
My decision was to walk for five minutes every hour. Happily, Fitbit has a notification for that. The default goal is 250 steps per hour. If you have not made this minimum by ten minutes before the end of the hour, you will feel a little buzz. If you look at the dial you will get cute little reminders such as “Take me for a walk!” “Only 249 steps to go!”
The open concept of our house is perfect for my five-minute walk. Down the hall, around the corner, back through the kitchen, around to the hall. It is long enough that I can move comfortably. I make about three laps a minute.
It was difficult in the beginning because it was unnatural. My husband and I made jokes about it. However, it felt good. I would actually get my heart rate up. After a few days, I started feeling a slight ache in the very top of my legs. I was working muscles! There were times I could not get up immediately when the zap hit my wrist because I was working on something that required minute attention. However, as time went and I became dedicated to the project I became more slavish to the request. Now, like a Pavlovian dog, when my Fitbit buzzes me, I get right up and start walking around my lap track.
Then there is the water. In the lower left-hand corner of my screen, there are eight little glasses. They represent the suggested amount of water to drink each day. The recommendation has not changed in all the years I have known, and pretty much ignored the advice. My friend Carmen had one of the best systems for drinking water. She had two little bowls and eight pretty stones that she moved from one to the other as she consumed water throughout the day. I tried it at one time but did not follow through.
Neither had I planned to bother with the water. However, there those little glasses are every time I sync my Fitbit with the computer. Just there. Until one day I started ‘”filling” them. It was not too hard to get up to five or six when I was working at the mountain because I have drunk hot water whenever possible to both warmup and rehydrate. However, things were quite different at home. First, I was quite happy to fill four of the glasses, now I am dismayed if I have fewer than six, and am approaching eight on a fairly regular basis. This is one of my latest challenges.
It has been an interesting month. A month full of changes I had not intended. Listening to people talk about their steps, I had thought it might be encouraging to my husband to use the tracker. However, counting steps is only a fraction of the benefits available. With only the Fitbit on my wrist, I do not think I would have become enamored. Connected to my computer, showing all kinds of possibilities for improvement, it is encouraging me to do many things. How long I will continue, where these alterations might lead, is unknown. But, for the past month, habits are being formed. Better habits.
Author’s Note: I am not paid by or endorsing Fitbit. There are many such trackers on the market. This just happens to be the one I bought.