Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Fitbit

I preface post this by saying that I’m a cheapskate.  At least when it comes to spending money on myself. 

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend at work about needing a new heart-rate monitor watch (my old crappy Walmart HR watch was going on the fritz) and she told me about her Fitbit.  Obviously, I’d heard of Fitbit – I don’t live under a rock, after all.  But as usual, I’m just about the last kid on the block to jump on the technology train.  However, after looking into it on the internet, debating with myself, and waffling back and forth about the expense, I took a deep breath and clicked “Place Your Order” on for a shiny new Fitbit Charge HR.

And the verdict?

As someone who’s not a hardcore athlete - yet (note the optimism!), I love my Fitbit. It’s exactly what I needed in this early stage of my health and fitness reboot.  It provides me lots of data to be distracted with (I’m an engineer – me likey numbers) and helps keep me motivated to be active throughout the day.  I know that sounds like a commercial, but honestly, that’s exactly how it’s been for me. 

Fitbit makes lots of different gadgets, but I ended up getting the Fitbit Charge HR, which is a heart rate monitor, pedometer, sleep monitor, it tracks the flights of stairs I climb in a day, and – best of all – actual calories burned.  Did I say I loved this thing?

This is the screen you see on your computer desktop that summarizes everything.  This is me last Thursday.

The top part of the display you see on your phone.
The most obvious function that everyone looks at first is the pedometer.  It measures REALLY accurately how many steps you take in a day, with the goal typically being 10,000 (though you can change your goals if you want).  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’m actually much more active than I had originally thought.  Even on days I don’t work out, I almost always exceed the 10,000 step goal.  I often have nearly 5,000 steps before I even get to work.  Walking the dog, walking with the kids to their bus stops on some days.  Running around the house getting everyone going in the mornings, apparently it all really does add up.  Happy surprise for me!

That said, my favorite function is the one that shows “calories burned verses calories consumed”.  For the last 30-ish years of my life (since my very first diet back when I got chubby as a teenager), I hadn’t really bothered myself with how many calories I was burning – it was all about how much I ate.  I’d see various recommendations about how many calories a girl should take in, and try minimize that amount of food I ate without going under the absolute minimum the “experts” recommend, which is usually 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day (for a girl).  I knew there were formulas for estimating the amount of calories burned, and I used them from time to time to try and estimate the amount of weight I should lose with a given calorie deficit, but it all seemed very vague to me.  The formulas were based on assumptions and there were always caveats that the “real” value would vary for individuals. 

The bottom part of the display you see on your phone.
Check out the water consumption - and this was at 4:30 PM!!
Well, the Fitbit Charge HR has pretty much convinced me they know what they’re doing when they estimate the amount of calories burned.  According to the Fitbit website, the calorie burn estimate that Fitbit provides takes into account your basal metabolic rate (BMR) , the activity recorded by the tracker (based on heart rate calcs and steps) and any activities that are manually logged (which would include things like swimming or biking that aren’t tracked as well with the device).  The BMR is calculated using the standard MD Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which is based on gender, age, height and weight. 

And how does this little do-dad track the heart rate?  Well, when your heart beats, your capillaries expand and contract based on blood volume changes. PurePulse™ LED lights on the tracker reflect onto the skin to detect blood volume changes and finely tuned algorithms are applied to measure heart rate automatically and continuously.  Wicked cool, eh?

I’m not going to write a detailed review of this device.  If you want a detailed review (of this device or any other fitness device, for that matter), I HIGHLY recommend the blog of DC Rainmaker. Here is a link to the page in which he reviews the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR in depth.  And when he says “In-Depth”, he MEANS “In-Depth”!  And if you’re interested in fitness and you’ve never stumbled across his blog yet, um, get over there!!  Really a lot of useful information, motivating stories (he’s a triathlete, as is his adorable wife), and travel (they live in Paris and he travels all OVER the world for his work and writes prolific and detailed posts about all the places he goes).  I seriously can’t recommend his blog enough!

But I digress.  Where was I?  Oh yes, this little post of mine isn’t a detailed review, but in my short time using this baby (got it August 18th), I can testify that it’s been extremely accurate in predicting the amount of weight I’ve lost.  I compared the amount the device says I burned verses the amount of calories I consumed (tracked on a different website).

The goal in using this device as a weight loss tool is to set a “calorie deficit goal”.  So for me, since I need to lose mumble/mumble/mumble pounds, I set a rather aggressive deficit goal of 1000 calories per day.  What does that mean?  It means if I burn 2300 calories in a day, my goal intake (calories eaten) is 1300 calories.  And FYI, 2300 calories is approximately the amount I burn on days I don’t run.  On days I run the amount burned surges up to around 2800 calories per day, and thus, my goal intake is 1800 calories.  Easy-peasy, right?  And it’s worked for me.  At least on days I stick to the goal.  And on days I don’t stick to my calorie intake goal, it’s still good, because it shows me my absolute maximum I should take in.  If I’m burning 2300 calories per day, I’d better not exceed that amount on a regular basis or I can expect to gain weight.  I think what I like about this function the most is it sets reasonable calorie goals, so I’m not trying to keep my calorie intake to a ridiculously low level, especially on days I’m working out. 

Another neat function of the device is its ability to track your sleep: it tells you when you fell asleep, when you got up, and how many times you were awake or restless in the night.  Cool, right?  Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to use these gems of info to actually improve my sleep quality.  But it does make me feel righteously justified when I’m dragging in the morning if I know I had a legit crappy night’s sleep.  That’s worth something, right?

My sleep chart - the top one was when I got all the sleep!  That's unusual for me . . .This has demonstrated that I typically only get between 6 and 7 hours a night.  And I need 8 to be a really happy camper.

Now I’ll be the first to say that the Fitbit Charge HR is NOT a workout watch.  It doesn’t have a stopwatch/timer function and no GPS (sad face).  For those items, you (and I) will need a specialty running watch. Currently I burn for a Garmin FR620 or even the older and clunkier Garmin 310XT, but I’ve been making do with some cool phone apps to track my distance and time.  They’re not perfect, and I feel like I’m not part of the cool kid group of runners that have badass running watches, but they’ve been adequate for the time being, primarily because I’m essentially a newby runner and haven’t been training long enough to need additional detail with my paces mile per mile, etc..  I want to do that type of tracking, but I just haven’t justified the expense yet – those babies aren’t cheap.  And, as previously mentioned, I am a cheapskate.  For realz.

So, long story short?  I recommend folks just starting to get in shape or trying to lose weight to look into the Fitbit Charge HR. It’s cool. And if you’re into tracking data like me (I’m an engineer, what can I say?), it’s awesome!

And lest you think I'm a sell-out, I wasn't compensated in any way to do this post.  I just really dig my fitbit :-).