Has a FitBit helped you get off your lazy a-- ?
July 18, 2014 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I need to jumpstart my fitness which is currently non-existent. Would a FitBit help me (& the SO) be less lazy and more motivated? Did you use a fitbit or similar device to help you get on a fitness track? Or did you use another method?
posted by kmr to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It helped a bit until the novelty wore off for me. The sad truth is, you can't buy the will to exercise. So things like this work until your desire to not exercise eclipses your desire to get accolades or encouragement from an electronic device.
posted by cecic at 7:38 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]

I actually got a FitBit *after* I had started to exercise quite a bit more than normal, and it really helped initially. I hated the fact that it couldn't tell time, though, so I dumped it for the Garmin VivoFit. All of these connected devices are mostly the same, with incremental differences. The FitBit is good at what it does, the VivoFit seems slightly more accurate on steps, tells the time, and doesn't need to be charged (it has a one year battery that will need to be replaced.)

This may seem obvious, but if you're not very motivated about fitness in the first place then spending $100 probably won't make motivation appear, but it can help. For me, I discovered hiking and joined the Y. The Y may offend some people's sensibilities given its association with organized religion, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find nicer gyms or more decent people. I'm an atheist, and I get left alone and just do my workouts and leave. All these things in concert—the Y, hiking and being outdoors much more, a better diet, and a data tracker—helped me lose a good chunk of weight. The absence of any one probably would have yielded different results.

I think for some people, the "gamification" of fitness can be enough; that is, it's enough for them to walk 30 minutes a day in response to a nag from their phone or a device. In truth, though, the devices are part of a larger set of good habits that replace the less good ones. The only variable is your willingness to do the new behaviors and for how long.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:41 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]

Same. I wore it regularly until I didn't. I like it as an alarm clock though. The silent and vibrate tends to work better for me than blaring noise.

Fitbit didn't help me as much as deciding not to use the elevator at work helped me.
posted by Draccy at 7:41 AM on July 18

Picking up a FitBit 6 months or so ago has changed my life for the better. It's still up to you to actually get out and move, but having a concrete number at the end of the day helps a lot. You can't rationalize that you "probably" got 10k steps. You either did or you didn't.

If you have friends that use them too the gamification part of it is fun too. Nothing quite like getting a few hundred (or thousand) steps on someone who has consistently beaten you in previous weeks.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 7:42 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]

Yes. It helped me immensely, for about a year. I got one for myself and my SO, gave us a bit of competition and a way to encourage the other person to keep up with our goals. The problem in buying one of these is they can show you how little your move in a day and how few calories you actually burn. The drive to adapt your life, walk more and adjust your lifestyle accordingly still comes from you. (But spending $200 on a pair of fitbits sure gave my drive to use them)
posted by token-ring at 7:45 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]

I love my FitBit! I've been wearing it for about 6 months, and it's definitely changed my habits for the better. If nothing else, it makes me aware of how sedentary I tend to be and makes me want to change that. I like having the data about my habits, and I'm more active than I was on January 1.
posted by superlibby at 7:46 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

My FitBit motivates me because I am highly motivated by quantitative goals -- at work, I set goals such as "do 3 of X things before lunch" and that helps me avoid procrastinating. When I look at my FitBit and see that I'm 3,000 steps short for the day, I go for a walk, even if it's dark, even if it's cold, even if it's raining.

Do you feel motivated by that kind of goal? If yes, then a FitBit might help you. If not, it probably won't.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:46 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]

What worked for me, in this order:

1. External motivator created habit (in this case, needed to show up at gym several times a week to get credit for class in order to get financial aid, but you can fake internal motivators with reward systems and accountability from friends)
2. Then looked around for a type of exercise that I enjoyed a lot and
3. That exercise was structured so someone was waiting for me there to show up (in my case a personal trainer at a boxing gym: novel, fun, vigorous activity + affordable trainer + he's waiting for me)
4. Then after that habit of regular exercise was built in and I started actually enjoying it, I continued trying lots of different activities to see which other ones I liked and started doing those things for fun, instead of a trip to the movies or whatever.
5. Incorporated more physical activity into daily life (biking to work most days, walking farther instead of getting in the car)

It's still a huge challenge to fit exercise into my schedule but now at least I like it when I'm doing it and I get a lot more than I did before this all started.

Also, the pedometer aspect of the fitbit is easily achieved with your phone. Even if it's not as accurate, it is a good enough way to measure your steps, and increasing daily steps would be an easy first goal.
posted by latkes at 7:47 AM on July 18

My wife combined a different fitness tracker with MyFitnessPal and a personal trainer and some serious obsessiveness and took off 20 pounds in ~5 months. About a pound a week.

She's at her goal, but still using the tracker and the calorie counter to maintain.

She's certain she couldn't have done it without all three tools.
posted by notyou at 7:48 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I like my fitbit. It definitely makes me walk those extra blocks when I am short of my 10K steps.
posted by mochapickle at 7:48 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]

I definitely walk a lot more since getting one - knowing your step count (and how few steps you used to take) is helpful. From a weight loss perspective, at least in my experience - don't count on it just from walking unless you've got a lot of weight to lose. The average person who is a little overweight and walking maybe 3,000-5,000 steps a day can pretty easily adjust to walking 15,000 steps or more in a short amount of time (think 1 or 2 weeks). A lot of my initial step improvements came from purchasing a treadmill desk and an adjustable height desk at work - for a while I was doing about 10,000 steps a day on it and losing no weight (and I wasn't eating more either). If you aren't breaking a sweat or feeling at least a little fatigued from your additional exercise you're probably not burning enough net calories - you could walk 10k steps extra per day for a week and wipe out all of your gains from a cookie and a 12 oz Coke. To me the real secret is elevation - your body can easily adapt to walking extra flat steps (the same way your car will coast on flat ground if you take your foot off the gas). You will likely be in better overall health from walking (blood pressure etc) but you won't lose weight. If you really want to lose weight - take the stairs (it helps if you work on the 10th floor of a building or live in a high rise), walk up and down the stadium rows instead of around the track, add elevation to your treadmill, climb a mountain etc. And yes - the Fitbit can help you keep track of that as well - but I focus on very active minutes (and if your Fitbit has this feature elevation) instead of raw steps. And again if you're not breaking a sweat, you probably aren't making serious enough net calorie gains to make a difference. I added caster wheels to my tread desk which gives it the equivalent of 8% elevation now and I get winded enough walking at only 1.7 mph that I can't talk on a conference call anymore at that speed. 30 minutes of that pace/height beats 3 hours of flat/3mph.
posted by chrisishardcore at 8:02 AM on July 18

You will likely be in better overall health from walking (blood pressure etc) but you won't lose weight.

I dunno about this. I lost 50 lbs several years ago, mostly just walking flat NYC blocks.
posted by mochapickle at 8:07 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

Mine has definitely helped. I got the Zip, so I don't have to worry about recharging it. I wear it on my bra, so I don't even notice it. Something else that has helped is friending everyone I know who has one, so I have some competition, and starting a Fitbit community at work, so I have even MORE competition. It's helped the most in the littlest ways, like parking farther away from my destination or walking in the extra bit of time I have on my lunch break.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:07 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

The fitbit visualized the impact daily habits had on my activity level. A day at the office 3000 steps. A day at home with the kids 10 000 plus.

The fitbit did not make me move more but the information helped me appreciate the impact lifestyle decisions have on my health.
posted by samhyland at 8:39 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]

I got a fitbit after I had already started to lose weight and take better care of myself, but I still find it to be a bit motivating.

Really, my favorite thing is that both FitBit and Runkeeper sync with MyFitnessPal. It's also led to me doing silly things like walking around the train station or subway platform when I'm waiting for my train (I have to get those dots!)

I have a desk job, and it's made me aware that unless I make an effort, I move very little throughout the day.

And if you want to friend mefites, check out this thread.
posted by inertia at 8:44 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]

In my experience in watching my friends and coworkers, generally speaking it seems like it helps people who are quantifiable-goal-oriented and respond to using gaming-style rewards in aspects of their life. I did the pedometer thing, realized I was getting 10k steps a day without doing anything extra, and abandoned it. I am also immune to things like Candy Crush and FB games. I don't really get "addicted" to anything, positive or negative. Exercise has to come from a very internally motivated place for me, like everything I stick with. My type A coworkers and friends seem to LOVE theirs.

I was actually envious and wished I was more like David Sedaris when I read his Fitbit article about how it plugged right into his OCD. That is probably the only time I will ever say that about him....
posted by Lardmitten at 8:45 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I've not used Fitbit specifically, but I think novelty is a good motivator. Unfortunately, novelty wears off of products pretty quickly. I've seen it happen with HabitRPG, WiiFit, Healthmonth, Beeminder, Runkeeper, Fitocracy, etc. They kind of end up being like gym memberships, in that you try it out, love it, and want the paid version, and the subscription page shows you how much you could be saving if you bought 3 months, or even more with a year, so you buy a lot and then you find yourself petering out in 6 weeks. While I still do use the free Runkeeper app without a subscription to track how much distance I run over time reliably, I've come to accept that quantified self isn't really great as a gameification tool so much as a diagnostic. The thing with games is that people get bored of almost every game over time, even ones designed for pure enjoyment. If you can't get yourself to forever enjoy a $60 PS4 game that took $100 million dollars and three years to develop, what chance does a chart plotting your steps on a website have?

However, what I think really helps me make a good change in my lifestyle is to mix a stream of novelty into my routines for health.

For cooking, that could mean trying out seasonal and ethnic ingredients so you cook fresh and healthy foods that are also unfamiliar. For running, I found a running vest with a smartphone pocket helps me keep my runs interesting so long as I have a variety of podcasts or new music to try out. There's a lot of good stuff on Bandcamp to be found for cheap.

I know this answer was kind of a derail, but I think it's important to say that you can't really buy motivation directly.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:52 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]

In my experience in watching my friends and coworkers, generally speaking it seems like it helps people who are quantifiable-goal-oriented and respond to using gaming-style rewards in aspects of their life.
If you’re one of those people, get a Fitbit activity tracker + the FitRPG app. It’s an Android/iOS game (I find the latter to be buggy) that turns your steps, exercise & sleep into points. (I’m a level 9 Dream Weaver.)
posted by editorgrrl at 8:53 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I've gotten even more motivation out of using the Fitbit app (tracking other exercise and tracking food) and using the Fitbit Aria scale. It sort of completes the feedback loop when you see the charts over time and how maintaining a calorie deficit really does produce weight loss.

BTW, if you happen to have a iphone 5s, you can track your steps using the Fitbit app + the internal iPhone motion tracking, no bracelet needed.
posted by the jam at 9:15 AM on July 18

I think it helps if you fit into one of these categories:
  • You get obsessive about making a number higher.
  • You feel bad about not using stuff you paid for.
  • You think you are moving around more than you actually are.

posted by michaelh at 9:43 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]

The Fitbit can help you realize the extent of how sedentary your life is, because it quantifies it. Some people find it motivational, others don't; some start strong and then fade.

My reading on habits has taught me that doing something every day is the best way to form a habit. Then once you have a habit of activity, you can turn your attention to goal-setting in terms of how you use your time.

The thing about the fitbit is that unless you check your progress throughout the day, you can still end up with disappointing numbers at night, when you're too tired to do anything about it. If you make time for activity, say half an hour a day at first, then you know you're getting it in.

Personally, I give myself credit for going to the gym, no matter what I do when I get there. I get a gold star (literally, one of those little foil stars from elementary school) on my calendar for going, which is a short-term reward that comes with bragging rights. Seeing the stars accumulate feels really nice.

I set a goal for 10 weeks of consistent exercise, and if I skip a day, I make myself start the 10 weeks over again. But then, I'm disciplined in other areas in life, so this kind of strictness is motivating to me.

Figure out what motivates you in other areas of life, and then ask yourself how it translates to activity. Build the habit, and use tracking as validation and celebration. That's my best advice.

Good luck!
posted by nadise at 10:18 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- my fitbit analogue (striiv) turned me into a crazy person.

I walked in circles while waiting for lights to change at crosswalks, I did laps in my house at night if I didn't like my day's step count before bed, I paced all the time in my office, and I was constantly checking that damn thing. I was definitely more active, but the crazy wasn't worth it for me, so when it died on me, I decided to just toss the addiction instead of sending it in for a replacement.
posted by ktkt at 11:42 AM on July 18

I tried the FitBit for about 4 months, and it wasn't all that helpful to me - but for a very specific reason.

I wanted to increase my activity level throughout the day, and tracking that was useful. But it turned out that what I really needed was something that would remind me to get off my lazy ass (as opposed to staying pretzeled over my computer all day like a keyboard troll). And the FitBit wasn't great at that.

The version I tried (Flex) would only allow you to set 8 vibration alarms throughout the day. I liked seeing how many steps I took, but I kept forgetting to stand up and take more.

Now I use the Jawbone Up24. It's got some drawbacks, but I love the app, and it includes a function to set intermittent reminders to get the hell up. You can set it to remind you with a vibration if you've been idle for over 15 minutes -- in increasing 15 minute increments, from 15 minutes to 2 hours. I would say I'm getting an increase of around 2000 steps a day from the reminders alone, before the gamification aspect even kicks in.
posted by kythuen at 12:19 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]

Oh, I also want to add that I tried several cheap pedometers and they were all crap (one told me I'd done 400 steps after I walked 12) and I ended up buying the Fitbit after anyway. It does do a stellar job as a pedometer.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:56 PM on July 18

I got a Fitbit after I hit a plateau with LoseIt. Connecting Fitbit with my LoseIt account helped me get a reality check on how sedentary (or not) I was on a particular day (as others have mentioned). More specifically, it alerted me to how LoseIt's calorie burn calculation was a little too generous given the level of activity I would typically get. Once I started tracking all of my exercise through FitBit and aiming for a daily Fitbit calorie bonus in LoseIt (basically making sure my activity level matched LoseIt's estimation), I was able to break through the plateau.

I was already someone who worked out at least three times a week, so the Fitbit helped me to see how I could effectively build in extra steps into my day. All of the cliche advice people give really helps here: park further away and walk more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a more circuitous route when doing anything, etc. I also started jogging in place for sprints (5 to 10 minutes or more) when watching TV. Also, if it motivates you to go out and walk more, hey that's great too.

I also agree with fiercecupcake that the cheap pedometers can be crap. Fitbits are expensive, but they are very accurate and reliable (based on tests I've done using other tools to compare mileage).
posted by jazzbaby at 3:24 PM on July 18

I have another device (Jawbone Up) but the benefits for me have been to get out and do my daily 10,000 steps (mostly more, sometimes less). This device was a gateway to acquiring a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) which I feel is a better gauge of my fitness. As I walk more and more, I started tracking my fitness on TrainingPeaks and tracking my food as well.
I've been doing this since December 26 and I highly recommend it.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:57 PM on July 18

I had one for a few years, and I found it informative, but not motivational itself. As others have said, the motivation has to come from within. Mine broke (physically fell apart, my own fault), and I didn't necessarily miss it because my goals were more related to running x amount per day/week, and I didn't need the FitBit to measure that. But I recently read an article about how much of our workouts are negated by being sedentary, and so I've been thinking about buying one again so that I can check it throughout the day and try to avoid the sedentary trap. Having very stark, irrefutable evidence from a FitBit is the kind of thing I need to gauge the extent of my problem and make sure I take steps (ha!) to fix it.
posted by Terriniski at 10:54 PM on July 18

I dunno about this. I lost 50 lbs several years ago, mostly just walking flat NYC blocks.

I guess you missed the part in my post where I said:
From a weight loss perspective, at least in my experience - don't count on it just from walking unless you've got a lot of weight to lose.

Congrats on losing 50 pounds. If you are only 15 or so pounds overweight and thus have a metabolism that is only slightly behind where it should be, you will not lose it from extra flat steps. I'm 5'11 and just under 200 pounds - upped my step count from around 3,000 to 20,000 for a while and lost no weight without also dieting. I am guessing that if you have 50+ pounds to lose just walking flat NYC blocks was probably working up a sweat and raising heart rate, as I have friends in similar situations who are losing weight walking.

Most of my friends who are in similar or better shape than myself who have fitbits have not seen any return from walking extra steps. But I do still like knowing and competing.
posted by chrisishardcore at 5:59 AM on July 19

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