Keeping active, much less in shape, has been a challenge of mine for years but really ramped up four years ago when I started working at home. One of the best ways I’ve found to keep myself active when sitting at home all day is my FitBit. From it’s gamification to it’s step goal I’ve spend the better part of the last three years making it work for me and I can definitely say that it has helped me improve my health more than any other device or technique.
I’ve had a FitBit since 2012 and, frankly, it really didn’t do much for me until I started setting appropriate goals in 2015. After two years of it actually helping motivate me to move I switched to an Apple Watch in April of this year. At first I thought its emphasis on calories as the main goal was helpful but by the end of November, as my weight had hit a new record, I looked over the months of data (I had imported all my FitBit data into Apple’s Health app when I moved to it) and realized that overall I was actually getting far less activity than I had before.
Of course there’s more to it than just activity throughout the day. Getting to the gym (we’ve had a YMCA membership since we moved here) and diet are big parts of the equation but looking back over the data my gym attendance and diet really haven’t changed at all over the last three years. I’ll add improving on each to my New Year’s resolutions for next year but for the point of this post it really does make a difference which tracker I use. When I stopped using my FitBit in April I was averaging a bit over 11,000 steps per day. By June, with the Apple Watch, I was down to about 3,000 and it stayed at that point until I switched back to a FitBit Charge 2 on December 1. Last summer, by comparison (it get’s hot here in the summer and walking outside tends to suck), I averaged just over 8,000 steps per day. That’s quite a difference.
FitBit Didn’t Always Work for Me
Before I get into how I make FitBit work for me I should point out that it didn’t always. It wasn’t until I got my first FitBit Charge in July of 2015 that I really figured out how to make it work for me. Looking back on the data prior to this I was around the same 3,000 steps per day that I did when I had the Apple Watch. It wasn’t until I revisited how I was using it that it really started to make sense and pay off.
How I Made FitBit Work for Me
Step 1: Set Appropriate Goals
Setting appropriate goals was the single biggest change I made to how I use my FitBit. When you buy one it comes with a 10,000 step goal. Not only can that be difficult for you physically if you’re not used to it but if, like me, you try to keep to a fairly consistent routine the amount of extra time you could spend getting that many steps in per day might not be realistic at first. For example, I average somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 steps per hour. To try to go straight from 3,000 steps to 10,000 steps means I need an additional hour and a half in my day to make my goal. That wasn’t going to happen.
Start at 5,000 steps
Given 10,000 is too high I’ve set my FitBit to a 5,000 step per day goal. This is an extra 15-20 minutes of walking per day which is totally doable and I don’t feel tired from pushing myself all the way at the beginning.
Don’t worry about starting even lower
If you average 1,000 steps per day now maybe starting at 3,000 steps per day is appropriate. Maybe you’re more active and 6,000 is a good goal for you. The point is wear your tracker for a few weeks or so to see where you’re at now and then set a goal a bit above it. You don’t need to shoot for the top right from day one. That’s the whole point of getting better.
Step 2: Re-evaluate Your Goal When Appropriate
Here’s how I re-evaluate my own step goal:
When I’ve hit my step goal every single day (no exceptions) for 4 weeks straight I raise it by 1,000 steps.
If I go 4 weeks in a row where I’ve missed my step goal at least 1 day per week for each of those 4 weeks I lower it 1,000 steps.
This 4 week mark gives me plenty of time to adjust physically and mentally do simply doing more. When I started in July of 2015 it took me until December of 2016 to get to 10,000 steps. A year and a half. During that time I never once went down in my goal (that 4th week could sometimes be stressful but it was always worth it). When things were busy and I didn’t prioritize the goal it instead stayed right where it was and gave me a constant reminder to get out and try for it at a lever I knew darn well I could keep up with.
Now, after 8 months without the FitBit I’m starting out again at 5,000 steps and I’m about to hit my first full week of it. It isn’t much but it is quite a bit better than the 3,000 I was getting just two weeks ago.
Step 3: Use the Game
Next to setting a realistic goal the single best aspect of FitBit, for me, has been the game itself. FitBit tracks and ranks you and your friends by number of steps taken for the last seven days. While I might never be able to catch my wife in this little game I have friended a number of people I know who are at similar places in life. Over the year and a half I build my goal up with my last FitBit I went from the bottom half of the pack to near the top and people did notice. When folks started competing that’s when, to me, it got a lot more fun. Don’t be afraid to friend people in that boat. You meeting your own goals will be inspiration for others who can and will inspire you to be better yourself.
Your Mileage May Vary
As a recap, using a realistic goal, and re-evaluating that goal on a schedule, has allowed me to really maximize my own goals with FitBit. Yes, I can do better with more formal exercise and a better diet (something I really hope to dive into this winter and beyond) but even without the more formal habits it has made me healthier and helped me feel better. It isn’t the only tracker out there though. Apple Watch, for example, focuses on active calories (calories burned by doing more than you normally would) instead of steps and I know a number of people for whom that has been a much better fit. Other apps and trackers focus more on diet, specific exercises or other habits. Talking to a fitness expert and finding what works for you is paramount to actually improving your health. If, however, you’re like me though and simply getting up and moving is a step in the right direction add me as a friend on FitBit and lets try to motivate each other.