The Fitbit Made Me Do It: My First Week with a Fitbit

I've had my Fitbit Charge HR for a little over a week now. I got it as a perk from work last week, which delighted me because I'd been wanting a Fitbit for the past year.

Before getting my free Fitbit, I hadn't been able to justify spending $150 on a device that, I imagined, wouldn't actually do anything for my health; it would only report the data. $150 buys a bundle of workout classes or a few personal training sessions (both of which actually do something), so I just never made the purchase.

But after my first week with the device, I've decided that the Fitbit can influence behavior insofar as you bring your own goals to the table. I found myself being generally more active because of this device's presence on my wrist.

Maybe a better title for this post would be "The Fitbit Encouraged Me to Do It." Here are a few observations from my first week with a Fitbit.

The obvious one: the Fitbit does encourage me to walk more. Fitbit says 10,000 steps a day are good for you. The company even says 10,000 steps are magic. I consider myself a pretty healthy person and was truly bothered when I logged only 3,000 steps on a non-workout day this week. You better believe I logged 10,000 steps every day after that. I don't know if I'll miss the mark again unless I'm sick or on vacation.

The heart rate monitor is especially fetching. A super-high heart rate is excellent for long-term fat burn. It's amazing to see how much more high-intensity interval training (HIIT) spikes your heart rate than a steady but slow pace. Seeing my heart rate skyrocket is addictive, and I definitely think the Fitbit is encouraging me to intensify my workouts. I love seeing that little heart rate line climb into the red zone.

fitbit heart rate monitor.PNG

A Fitbit makes workouts a little more fun. We all get bored in the gym sometimes. Your Fitbit app is one more thing to look at while you're resting between sets or warming up. It's fun to see the steps shoot up by a few thousand as you're running.

You can set daily fitness goals with real means of tracking them. I've always struggled with goals like "lose 5 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle" because they're hard to track regularly. You can buy a low-accuracy body fat scale or make appointments to get body fat tests, but it's much easier to open the Fitbit app on your phone and see that you did, indeed, meet your goal to log X minutes of cardio and X minutes of peak heart rate today.

If you're considering a Fitbit, I definitely recommend the Charge HR because of the heart rate monitor. It's incredibly useful data that inspires you to get off the couch and do something.

I'm happy with the Fitbit overall (and I think it's worth the $150 if you'll actually use it), but I do have a few ideas for how to take it to the next level. I doubt any Fitbit product developers are reading this post, but here's what I'd change or improve about the Charge HR.

The sleep tracker needs more functionality. The Fitbit includes a sleep tracker that tells you how many hours you slept and how restless or awake you were during the night. The thing is, I don't know what I'm supposed to do with that information. I can look at the clock before I fall asleep and after I wake up to estimate how long I've slept. This feature would be much more useful if the Fitbit used its silent alarm (a great feature) to wake you up in the proper REM cycle, like Sleep Cycle. I would even consider buying another Fitbit if it had this capability.

The Fitbit needs an inactivity alarm. Looks like the Jawbone UP band has an inactivity alarm that buzzes gently on your wrist when you haven't moved in a while. This seems like an ideal feature for the Fitbit and I was surprised to find that it didn't exist. I'm sure they're thinking about this for the next generation.

Fitbit should integrate health coaching (for a fee) into the dashboard. A major criticism of fitness trackers is that they provide a wealth of data but few insights. I think Fitbit should tap into the expertise of online fitness coaches and integrate these services into the app.

Imagine being able to export your Fitbit data (which is already possible) and sending it to a Fitbit-certified coach for a customized fitness plan. This would be a true value-add for customers, as well as an additional source of revenue for Fitbit. I imagine that after most people buy the Fitbit, they're done purchasing; this would be a way to extend the customer lifecycle and keep people coming back for more.

I've read a lot of articles about fitness wearables ending up discarded in people's drawers, retired from their useful days of tracking steps and heartbeats. I can't imagine that happening to mine. I love how it encourages me to take more walks and work out harder.

Have you used a Fitbit for months or even a year? What are your tricks for getting the most out of it? Send me a tweet (@youngheike) or leave a comment.