Friday, May 27, 2016

The Fitbit Effect

I have seen some articles posted recently about Fitbits and why they aren't good for your health. These articles cover everything from the dangers of electromagnetic fields to the inaccuracy of the heart rate monitors within the Fitbit devices. I am not a scientist or a doctor so I cannot confirm or deny that a Fitbit is endangering people's physical health, but I thought I'd take some time to talk about the positive psychological effects I have experienced as a Fitbit owner. As is always the case with any health-related matters, consult with your doctor and do extensive research before purchasing and using any type of exercise equipment or device.

In recent years I have become something of a runner. I am often training for races and trying to beat my own best times. But when I am not running, I am desperately trying to make an effort to move around more during the day.

My job is sedentary; I literally sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Talk about an endangerment to my health! Doctors and scientists agree that prolonged sitting is a health hazard; here is a link to one article of thousands that discusses this very concern. As a result, I have to be very deliberate about getting up and moving several times a day.

Cue the Fitbit!

Now that I wear a Fitbit, I know exactly how much I am moving (or not moving) on a day-to-day basis. I have a goal set in my device to take 10,000 steps a day (it's actually harder than you think if you sit at a desk all day like me) and I have to ability to check how many steps I am taking by tapping my device (which I wear on my wrist) or opening the Fitbit application on my smart phone.

Before I got a Fitbit I didn't think a lot about how much I was moving if I wasn't actually at the gym doing cardio. I didn't think about how important it is to get up and walk every hour during the work day just to keep my blood circulating. I didn't think I was really that sedentary...but as soon as I started wearing my little bluetooth step tracker, I quickly realized how little I was moving around. Let's put it this way: if I don't go to the gym, and I don't intentionally schedule time to take a walk at lunch and get up every hour to walk around the office, I will only get about 3,000 steps in an 8 hour work day. Out of a 10,000 step goal, that is not much movement! My lack of movement on some days is scary, actually.

A funny thing happened once I started wearing a Fitbit and began noticing how little I was moving, I suddenly felt accountable. With Fitbit you can "friend" people you know who also have Fitbit profiles and you can see their average steps compared to your average steps. You can also engage your friends in challenges to see who can take the most steps. With so much visibility, I started to feel motivated to get more steps each day. I could see that my sister-in-law was taking an average of 15,000 steps a day and beating me in every challenge, so I decided I wanted to start taking 17,000 steps a day. Wearing a Fitbit lit a competitive fire in me that I am not accustomed to.

It made me want to move.

I found myself parking in the furthest spot in the lot at work. I would opt to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I started walking with co-workers every day at lunch instead of eating at my desk. When watching TV I started getting up and walking around the house during each commercial break. I began searching for opportunities to get more steps in during the day. That little device on my wrist started to have a positive psychological influence on me and I playfully call this influence The Fitbit Effect.

Just to be clear, I don't work for Fitbit and I am not receiving any incentive to promote their product.
I just happen to wear a Fitbit, but any bluetooth step tracker can have the same effect. I hear good things about Jawbone. If you are thinking about trying a bluetooth tracker, do some research and find one that works for you.

I know people who wear basic pedometers and wearing them doesn't really have the same kind of effect that a bluetooth tracker has. What works well with Fitbit and other bluetooth step trackers is your ability to compare your own movement to the movement of other people. That is what's missing with a basic pedometer. While a basic pedometer can definitely help make you more psychologically aware of your movement (or lack thereof), the social aspect is absent. There is something inexplicably motivating about seeing other people take more steps than you (or seeing you take more steps than other people) in a given day. I am not a competitive person by nature but I definitely feel competitive with my Fitbit friends. I take great satisfaction in winning step challenges and having people say, "Wow, you took 20,000 steps yesterday, how did you do that?!" It's like getting an A for exercising.

I know that for some people, competition can make them feel neurotic. Not everyone feels good about friendly rivalry, sometimes it makes people feel stressed out. I recommend giving it a try, though. You might be surprised at how motivating it is.

Maybe someday soon, you too will be feeling The Fitbit Effect. And if you "friend" me, just know I will always be trying to take more steps than you. :)

'Twas the Night Before my Half Marathon...

Tomorrow morning at 8:15 I will begin running my third half marathon in my lifetime (and my second half marathon this year). 

I won't lie, I'm feeling a bit intimidated by this upcoming race, mainly because I am putting some pressure on myself to finish with a better time than my previous half marathons. 

This is also the first half marathon I have ever run "alone" (meaning that I am not running this race with any friends, I signed up on my own with the intention to train and run by myself). Don't get me wrong, I have a cheering squad coming with me to make sure I stay motivated (I always come armed with cheerleaders), but this is the first time I ever trained for a half marathon without a pal to commiserate with. 

It's a little scary to be doing this by myself. But also very liberating.

I can't predict how it will go tomorrow but even if I don't get a PR, I will still be proud of myself for giving it a shot. And if I don't beat my previous finish times this weekend, there's always the next half marathon. Because of course there is a next half marathon. There always is.