On Sunday night I left the house for a quick run. It was 9:20pm. It’s been years since I ran in the dark and likely a decade or more since running at night made any sense in my life. As every parent knows, we’re jailed in our houses around 8pm when the kids go to bed — if exercise hadn’t yet happened it gets pushed off until “tomorrow.”
Sunday night the Fitbit was 100% of the driving force behind me putting on my running shoes. I was about 500 steps shy of my 10,000 step goal and couldn’t go to bed, in good faith, that close to success (see image below).
Crazy or perfect? I wear 2 devices now. This month I added a Fitbit to my wrist; I’d already been wearing my Shine for a year or so and had certainly had seem improvements in self-awareness, a better understanding of my sedentary days at work, and the rewards of having daily data about my movement. I exercise a lot more now compared with a year ago. The reasons are multi-factoral of course (turning 40, losing loved ones, craving exercise) but the device has unequivocally helped. Adding the Fitbit to my wrist was designed to help hone an understanding for the level of consistency 2 devices can have (on the same person). The other reason was Fitbit would allow me to “compete” and/or compare daily totals with my husband. This is 40, my friends.
No question that in short order the Fitbit has helped me understand the difference between my movement and my activity, something I’d not really spent time on previously. For example, Sunday was a day of housekeeping. I’d moved around all day doing errands, going to store to buy hangers, cleaning the closet, goofing around with the boys, but I hadn’t been out for a run or bike ride — my first glance my Fitbit was about to give me a false sense of security. I nearly got my goal (in steps) without any real, active “exercise.” Like almost 1/2 of American adults, I hadn’t gotten the 30-60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity (walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming) we all crave and need. All the sudden it dawned on me — it wasn’t just the number of steps I’d had on Sunday that mattered it truly had to be about how I got them. I was 500 steps shy of my goal of 10,000 steps but the Fitbit also told me I’d only had 2 minutes, the whole day, of active time. YIPES!
I headed out into the beautiful summer night, a quick loop in the neighborhood and I’d achieved my distance/step goals (the device buzzed on my arm when I reached 5 miles), but I felt so good at that point I went around again and tacked on another mile or so. And poof — there I was with 30 minutes of active time.
These devices are changing my life, and hopefully my health.
HERE’S the rub. My anecdote is just that. I’m one person, one personality (goal-oriented), with two devices. To know if these devices are really worth their weight (and cost) for all sorts of people we need to study them fastidiously. Activity trackers are creating all sorts of data and we need to know what to do with it, in and out of the health care system. That’s, thankfully, where research comes in. Check out this quick blog post from Dr Jason Mendoza here at Children’s. He’s beginning to look at how activity trackers may influence teens activity (and health). Let’s capture more data so we can all get moving more, faster. It’s obvious to me that if we start with children we certainly will be primed for success in profound ways as middle age, and the “this is 40” period of life sets in. More from the above post, including contact info here:
Two big questions:
1. Do these snazzy gadgets work to improve teens’ physical activity?
2. How can we make them work even better?
In order to help answer these questions, researchers at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute are currently conducting a study involving the Fitbit Flex. Teenage participants, ages 14-18 years, in the Seattle area are enrolling in the study to help answer whether or not the Fitbit device helps teens stay active.
If you have questions about this work or other ongoing studies you can reach the study team at email@example.com.
Great post! Thanks for the information. Will check out the link re: teens and motivation. Keep on moving. 🙂
fran melmed says
i was similarly driven by my fitbit (less so by the shine when i tested it, and even less so by the jawbone). i was so motivated and so keenly distressed by my perception that my teens were sloths, my husband and i bought fitbits for them and turned their use into a game: the person with the least amount of steps at the end of the day did the dinner dishes.
i learned two things from our experiment. the first was that our girls had many moments of active living, which as we know from james levine and others studying this concept does much to keep us healthy. second was that trackers and gamification work with teens as they do with adults. influence tapers over time. i’m very interested in the study you’re conducting. thanks for cluing us in.
Thanks for you post. I’m considering getting a fitibt. One thing that gives me pause is concern over wearing a device that is constantly transmitting information. I’ve read about things such as an increase in breast cancer rates among women who wear there phones in the bras, and I’ve also read concerns about people who sleep with their phones by their beds with regards to cancer risks. I don’t know enough about the fitbit technology to know if those concerns are valid in regards to wearing it, nor could I find any mention on their website. I was hoping, particularly as a physician, you might be able to weigh in on this. Many thanks!
Thanks for your post. I’m considering getting a fitbit. One thing that gives me pause is concern over wearing a device that is constantly transmitting information. I’ve read about an increase in breast cancer rates among women who wear their phones in their bras, and I’ve also read concerns about people who sleep with their phones by their beds with regards to cancer risks. I don’t know enough about the fitbit technology to know if those concerns are valid in regards to wearing it, nor could I find any mention on their website. I was hoping, particularly as a physician, you might be able to weigh in on this. Many thanks!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
I don’t have a lot of expertise and most information I’ve read brushes aside the risks of these trackers (they emit very little radiation and many use bluetooth which few worry about — although some do). There’s certainly very little data. You bring up a great point, how many devices will we start using and how does that change our exposure? Perhaps make a compromise for now — wear the tracker you like during the day or during activity but not during bedtime?
What are your thoughts about wearing one of those if you spend a lot of your day carrying your baby around? I know a lot of new moms, including myself, appreciate simple ways to help boost our activity levels, but one friend reported that her pediatrician recommended against using a Fitbit while her daughter was so young.