Fitbit Experiment Part 4: 11 Things I’ve Learned So Far – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

fitbitone3milsteps

This Fitbit experiment has been fascinating. It’s really opened my eyes and I’ve learned a lot.

So, in no particular order, here’s a quick round up of all the things I’ve learned so far; the good, bad and the ugly, and what I’m looking forward to in 2014.

1. Having a daily goal of getting 10k steps helped bring structure to my life. Without a doubt, using the Fitbit One to have a clear, simple and attainable activity metric to shoot for each day helped me live a healthier life and proved to be a welcome ally  to conquer the personal fitness challenges noted below.

When I first got the Fitbit back in September of 2012 I started out with the goal of getting 10,000 steps a day because that was the recommended standard. 14 months later it’s still a worthy challenge to attain, so as my experiment rolled on I had to adapt my plan and evolve things a bit.

Basically I was challenged by the usual suspects to find a consistent time where I could  integrate getting my 10,000 steps in to my regular workout or supplement my workout with getting steps.  For me the biggest obstacles to staying healthy and working out were and still are:

  • Creating a workout program that’s integrated, flexible, realistic and based on SMART goals
  • Staying consistent, maintaining momentum and balancing the demands of work, life and being a new dad

 

2. We need simple metrics to stay healthy. To help battle those above challenges, one of the biggest things I learned is that having two metrics to shoot for helps to maintain momentum. I learned that I don’t always have the time when unexpected events put a wrench in my workout schedule, or I am challenged to adapt to the ever-changing sleep schedule and required dad-attention time of my growing 15-month-old son Calvin.

fitbitmertics

 

 

As you can see by the image above, I use the Fitbit mobile app to track both steps and active minutes. For my P90x workouts I have to manually enter in the activity, and it would be nice if Fitbit figured out a way to integrate active minutes into the friend leader boards because on some days I’m below 10,000 steps but achieved or exceeded my AM goal, but it doesn’t always show up in the leaderboards.

So what I’ve done is aim to create habits that help me get either  1) 10,000 steps a day or 2) at least 30 minutes of activity a day through running or short-burst higher intensity workouts.

3. Be flexible and get creative. This point became even more true during my Fitbit experiment because I’ve come to realize that it really helps to aim to squeeze in quick 5-20 min walking breaks or sneaky steps, where I get anywhere from 500-1200 steps, or squeezing in a short more high intensity workout like short 30 min run at a faster paced versus a long 60 minutes run. Taking this approach helped to maintain momentum and keep me on track towards having a regular active habit. Doing this short burst approach also lead to longer periods of healthy activity over time.

4. Make a game out of it. Many times during the fall and winter of 2013, and especially early in 2014 with the Polar Vortex clamping down on us in the Midwest, it’s been challenging and nearly impossible to get outside to go for a walk, so we’ve had spontaneous step challenges in our house during which we run around the house to see who can get to 10,000 step first. And when I got close to 3 millions steps I challenge my self to hit it before the one year mark in September and did.

These moments are actually really fun and I would love to be one of our neighbors looking in and seeing us running around wondering whats going on. In addition to gamifying my personal health at home, I’ve also been developing the habit of walking around the house while watching watching movies or my favorite TV shows.

  • Speaking of games, I created a fun little game at work where I challenged myself to see if I could get 10 steps before 5pm on a workday.  Through a combination of taking short breaks from my desk, no longer taking the elevator and using only the stairs and experimenting with walking meetings, I did get to 10,ooo steps before 5pm twice.
  • “10k steps before 5pm” is something that I’ll continue to shoot for this year. Doing this challenge at work I did notice that taking the short walking breaks gave me a welcomed creative physiological boost to my brain to power me through several writing projects and daily deadlines.

 

10kb45pm

5. Getting steps is contagious. The other exciting thing is that I was surprised that my sharing my experience through this Fitbit experiment has led to others in our corporate communications department getting a Fitbit too, which then led to us doing a special Steps experiment and feature story in our employee publication. And when it comes to our Walgreens internal social media programs, I started doing monthly activity challenges and sharing our steps experiences in our employee online communities. This has led to many great conversations about staying activity and now our employee online communities are a great source of motivation and encouragement.

6. You need a community to help you. As I just mention above, one of the most important things you should do when trying to create and stick to healthy habits is have a community to help motivate and keep you accountable.

I still stand by what I said in my last Fitbit post. And since that post the number of Fitbit buddies who are on my leaderboard has gone from 2 to 26.

I can’t stress enough how having buddies is to staying healthy. My community is a mix of friends, family and co-workers who are also striving for 10k steps and struggling with similar life change challenges as me.

I loved using the Fitbit mobile app to build community. Being able to simply click a button on my mobile phone to send cheers and short encouraging messages to my step buddies is awesome and  I love when I get the same from them. It often gave me that much needed boost of encouragement that I needed to get me over the hump and moving in the right direction.

I’m not going lie, on days when I don’t feel like doing  10 steps or I start to see my daily average slip looking at the leaderboards and seeing the faces of my step buddies is a welcomed motivator.

Speaking of community, another bonus in 2013 was the fact that getting steps was often associated with or led to more meaningful moments and social experiences. It gave me opportunity to be more emotionally and relationally healthy by building relationships on the short and long walks and hiking adventures. 

A big thanks to everyone I shared steps with in 2013. You all helped me get to over 3 millions step in 2013 and here’s to 3 million more in 2014. Keep up the great work – you rock!

Feel free to add me to your Fitbit friends here.

7. Tracking your steps can lead to saving money, free lunches and helping others.

In 2013 I connected my Fitbit account to the Walgreens Steps program which is connected to the Balance Rewards Loyalty program. So for every 200 steps I got 20 Balance Rewards points and with all the steps I did I racked up enough points to save some coin on several purchases.

One of my favorite early highlights of  my Fitbit experiment was my experience with Earndit. Earndit offers rewards for purchase or the option to donate your points to a worthy cause. Through the Earndit program I was able to also donate my activity points to help those in need through the American Red Cross. Unfortunately, Earndit stop doing the program in early 2013 and it no longer offers this “donate your points” option.

To be honest, the product discounts that Earndit offers for rewards are not very exciting or valuable to me, and it was much more rewarding and motivating to donate my points. I hope they bring that option back or at least some other company steps up (no pun intended) and provides this great service again, because knowing that getting steps not only keeps me healthy but it also allows me to help others in need was a great motivator.

toddlerfitbit

 

8. It’s time for a toddler Fitbit test. I let my son try on my Fitbit and now he wants his own activity tracker. I think this a great thing and it was the first step in my sub-experiment to let him wear a Fitbit for a day, or get him is own, to see how many steps he gets. I would love to do this because 1) it’d be interesting to compare his activity to mine and 2) I think building that behavior and giving him this sort of health data would be valuable for him as he gets older. Stay tuned for more on this.

The Bad and The Ugly

Okay, now for the bad parts of this Fitbit experiment.

8. They need to create a “find my fitbit” app. The one downside of the Fitbit One is that it can be easy to lose if you’re not careful. I lost it while fishing during the summer and had to buy a new one. Somewhere there’s a fish, or a frog that’s really activate now.

As activity trackers and wearable evolve in 2014 and beyond, I hope this will become less of an issue and they will figure out a way to make the trackers more integrated and easier to wear and harder to lose. Of the 450 days that I’ve had the Fitbit I’ve only lost it once. Making sure I have the device with me at all times has now become a regular habit. It would be nice, though, to have a feature where the Fitbit beeped and you could easily locate it, if you did lose it.

flex burn

9. The Fitbit Flex has some defects. Because I was enjoying my Fitbit One so much I bought my wife Colleen a Fitbit Flex for her birthday when the Flex first came out in the spring of 2013. Despite the many benefits of having the Flex, unfortunately, after only having it for 7 months, there have been several things that have made the experience concerning and disappointing.

  • First, around September, the Flex stopped holding a charge like it should. I did a quick search on the issue and found that others had the same issue. I follow these steps to see if it would work to resolve and it did. At the same time I contacted Fitbit support and they sent me a list of troubleshooting steps but the blog post was more helpful.
  • Then in late December Colleen had a nasty rash breakout on her wrist (see above). At first we thought it was a jewelry-related rash, but usually if she’s going to get one of those, the rash shows up pretty quickly and looks different. This one also seemed more like a chemical burn than an allergic reaction. So again, I took to the interwebs to see what others were experiencing and sure enough it was a known issue for others too. It even became a bigger issue as the press picked up on the rash issue but most reports focused on the Force and not the Flex-related burns.

I continued to trade emails with Fitbit support and had to answer a series of  customer feedback and trouble-shooting questions. They immediately offered a refund and replacement device. We gladly excepted and they sent Colleen a new Fitbit One.

All this said, I’m really disappointed with this whole rash situation because I’ve been a big supporter of Fitbit. To have Colleen experience the physical discomfort of the rash and know that her wrist still isn’t fully healed concerns me. I do hope Fitbit takes a good look at why this is happening and makes the necessary product improvements.

Looking Ahead…

So when I look at all the above things I’ve learned and experienced; yes, I still highly value my Fitbit and it’s a powerful tool for keeping things simple as you aim to stay or get healthy.

11. The future is exciting. As reflect on this list and I think about how my Fitbit experiment has evolved, I’m really pumped about the future. For all the issues and bad stuff I mentioned I’m still looking forward to the evolution of wearables and activity trackers, especially AIRO, a new device that tracks heart rate, nutrition and sleep in some very interesting ways.

I’m also looking forward to seeing wearbable devices like Fitbit and AIRO evolve more. We’re still in the early stages of using these devices in our lives and I believe the more we use them the better they will become.

Thanks again for following along! I’d love to hear about your Fitbit and other activity tracking experiences. Share them in the comments below.

 

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