Personal Fitness Devices May Help You Become More Active

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Ever tried a personal fitness device? I have – twice.

    The first time was last spring when I gave myself a birthday present – a Jawbone UP wristband. My goal was to try to get a handle on my activity level since as a writer, I tend to sit and work at a computer a lot. I really liked this device – it was intuitive, provided lots of data and spurred me into being more consistent in taking my miniature schnauzer for long walks.  I received regular reports on my phone that were very informative. But the Jawbone UP died on me within three months, breaking my heart. At the time, I figured I was pretty comfortable with my exercise routine and decided to go wristbandless.

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    Fast forward a month later and my good intentions went out the door when my elderly father, who lives with me, experienced a series of serious health issues that required him to be hospitalized for one week and then spend five weeks in a skilled nursing rehabilitation center. Since then, he’s been at home and gotten stronger. But for the first few months, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him for long stretches of time, especially since home health care staff members were visiting him at a moment’s notice.

    So it wasn’t until right before Christmas that I felt ready to get into a fitness routine that took me out of the house regularly (although I did try to do some periodic walking at a nearby park). Needless to say, the schnauzer was thrilled when I purchased a new pair of cross-trainer exercise shoes (which she instantly started sniffing). What she didn’t see was that I also had purchased a new personal fitness device.

    This time, I decided to go with another product based on reading reviews that indicated that users who used UP also had problems with longevity. (That’s now a key recommendation I’d make for anyone who is considering selecting a personal fitness device from the many options that are available now.) This time, I decided to purchase the Fitbit Flex. I am finding it to be a little more cumbersome to use and some of the technology is not as intuitive as the Jawbone UP. Still, if it holds up longer than the Jawbone, I’ll be happy.

    So what lessons have I learned from using both of these devices?

    • Little bursts of movement add up! For instance, both devices reported that I walk a great deal more on the days when the cleaning lady is scheduled to come to my home. I believe this additional activity is because I’m cleaning up for the cleaning lady and also heading to the washer and dryer, which are located at the opposite end of the house from my office and the bedrooms.
    • Some activities aren’t instantly displayed. Because the weather was glorious, a friend and I went for a two-hour bicycle ride on Sunday. However, this activity – which got my quadriceps burning and my heart pumping – didn’t show up on my Flex activity log that evening. This omission came as a surprise, but shouldn’t have. In a Wall Street Journal story about Olympic athletes who were asked to wear a Fitbit for a week to track their training, the reporter noted that Fitbit uses the wearer’s arm swings and other movements to estimate the number of steps taken daily, the intensity of activities, the number of calories burned, as well as the length and quality of sleep. Since my arms didn’t swing while cycling, the device didn’t read the activity. Instead, I had to record the cycling manually on the Flex dashboard, estimating how fast a pace we went (which actually varied on the ride since we were stopping to geocache periodically). 
    • "Very active minutes" can vary greatly. As I just mentioned, the Flex didn’t initially record my biking efforts; thus, I didn’t get credit for having very active minutes until I entered the data. However, I did automatically get credit for having very active minutes while pushing the lawn mower around my front yard as I mulched leaves on Saturday. I also have found that my recorded activity levels will differ greatly on my walks with the schnauzer.
    • You can get paranoid over your sleep numbers. I regularly used the Jawbone UP to gauge the quantity and quality of my slumber. I did pretty well overall, but I also found that I started getting worried about the quality since some nights I’d wake up quite a few times. (As I noted in a sharepost for HealthCentral's Alzheimer's site, researchers have found that certain periods of uninterrupted deep sleep are when the brain is cleaning itself of harmful plaques.)  And honestly, at times the concern about whether I was going to get enough quality sleep at night seemed to override my ability to get to sleep. Therefore, I haven’t really tried that hard to figure out the sleep function on the Flex wristband.
    • Entering your food data can be tricky. I started to enter what I ate into the Flex system, but soon realized that it wasn’t going to work well since I prepare a significant portion of my meals from scratch. Thus, my calorie consumption can’t as easily be quantified as users who eat prepackaged foods or visit restaurants.

    So is purchasing a purchase fitness device worth it? I tend to say yes since it does give you a level of accountability. However, I’d also stress that it isn’t the end all or be all since it doesn’t capture all the data. Still, both wristbands have given me the impetus to step away from the desk and to get moving. However, the better investment for increasing my activity level has been my schnauzer (who gets very excited when I pull on my shoes) and my regular walking partner.

  • Later this week, I’ll share some feedback from friends who have used other types of technology to boost their fitness level. Stay tuned!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Futterman, M. (2014). The measure of an Olympian. The Wall Street Journal.

Published On: January 21, 2014