Northern Girl… in the defence of fitness trackers and step counters

I’ve decided to take a slight change on my blog this week. So no Northern thriftiness here today…
You may have seen the various articles that have been making the news rounds slamming fitbit and other step counting apps and if you haven’t, have a delightful read of one here
I have been a very proud owner of a fitbit for 18 months now. At the time of purchasing I had cut down on my exercise substantially, a change in work location meant I could no longer put in a 4 hours solid dance student teaching after work. Where I lost hours in the studio I gained some exercise walking from Leeds train station to my office, purchasing my fitbit was my way of putting my mind at ease that I was doing enough exercise and that I didn’t need to spend a fortune at the gym and admittedly I followed the 10k rule that the media have so forcefully slammed today. However, not only did my fitbit make me feel I was doing enough, it drove a competitive edge in me, a determination that I was somewhat lacking before. I was far from obsessed and I didn’t choose to beat myself up if I didn’t hit 10k but I found myself actually going out at lunch to walk and choosing the furthest toilet cubicle away when making bathroom trips, I was also consciously drinking more water (the app can track that too) and reducing my amount of caffeine intake once I was logging the number of cups I was used to taking.
My Fitbit flex – a permanent fixture on my wrist
I got talking to a colleague about it and she too wanted in on the game. A year down the line and a new location for me and we’re still in contact daily through fitbit (and her family and friends, 7 in total who are all proud owners of a fitbit device.) It was a healthy obsession for both of us, she enjoyed it so much she literally couldn’t be without, she lost her fitbit once on a night out and rather than wait for her free replacement from fitbit she had to go out and buy a new one the following day, and whilst that sounds obsessive I can assure you it’s the healthiest kind of obsession.
We would have a daily update about how we were doing that week and the more of our colleagues we talked to around the country the more we realised that there was a real fitbit motion going on so we decided to set up our weekly challenge, a little friendly competition among staff.
We encouraged everyone to get involved even those who did not have a physical tracker could still join in just by downloading the app. This level of competition made it more exciting for us, we would fight over who would get the furthest cubicle on our way out, we would nearly always take the stairs and volunteer ourselves for tea runs just to see how much we could boost our score by. Like I said, 18 months since we both first purchased and we still run the same weekly group.
Since I’ve moved to London I have upped my walking game big time to the point where I have upped my daily target from the recommended 10,000 steps to 13,000 steps. Where I would previously have to drive to my nearest station in Wakefield, I walk to my nearest tube stop. When I’m not running late, I make the conscious decision to walk to my office from the next nearest station (Westminster, rather than getting off at St James’ Park) and when we’re not snowed under with work – and it isn’t snowing outside – I try and fit in a couple of laps of the park in my hour lunch break. My competitive streak also hasn’t stopped, since moving here I’ve taken up running and as I type this blog i’m in my running gear 1. Because I haven’t ran in a while and I’ve set myself a target of running my first 10k this year 2. Because I’m a little bit behind in this week’s competition. I’ve been known to take an extended route home because it would put me in front of my nearest competitor.
I honestly believe I wouldn’t do any of this without my tracker, well maybe the running but that’s only because I’ve caught the bug, and that’s why today’s article has hit me so hard. As far as I’m concerned I do not see anything wrong about walking round the park in my lunch break as opposed to sitting at my desk or extending my commute by a mere 10 minutes if it means i’m out in the open more. Thanks to my fitbit I can track my sleep so I know if my constant fatigue is due to poor sleep quality or something more serious and then there’s the food logging on top which I don’t even do! These apps can do it all and so much more and who doesn’t love some good statistics or charts? That’s why it pains me that there are people out there who may have been looking at investing in one of these trackers and are now actually put off by a sketchy article at best.
A snapshot of one of the charts fitbit produces
I can somewhat understand the point they are trying to make in the lack of scientific evidence supporting a 10,000 recommended daily step target but that’s the key, recommended. The articles all seem to lack the key point that every single app out there allows you to personalise your goals. There’s no scary electric shock for wearers if they dare top 10,000 steps and there’s also no punishment for those that don’t quite get there. These app developers know that not everyone shares the same fitness goals and they have made allowances for this, the articles do not.
I am far from the media’s biggest fan having recently boycotted the *Daily Fail* but it is honestly difficult to say who is at fault here. Not that long ago scientists and health researchers wanted the NHS to prescribe fitness trackers to obese patients, now the scientists say these apps are causing more harm than good? Is it simply our news outlets for putting a very very poor media spin on science and trying to scaremonger us all? Or are our journalists simply far too obedient to authority (Since this new health conscious information has come from a computer scientist no less?) It’s like bacon and roast potatoes causing The Big C, are we really subject to something new like this every month? In a dream world we could have someone like Dr. Ben Goldacre or a band of epidemiologists saying yes or no to what the media are actually allowed to publish when it comes to ‘science.’ Maybe that way we’d actually have peace of mind that everything is ok…

2 thoughts on “Northern Girl… in the defence of fitness trackers and step counters

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  1. Great post! I have been wanting a fitbit because I have heard so many people talking about it. I also need to up my game of walking and getting at least some light exercise because I have been slacking in the fitness department of life! haha

    -Danielle Ruppert
    danielleruppert.com

    1. I can so strongly recommend! I've just upgraded to the fitbit alta as it automatically tracks exercise for you so now I'm smashing targets even more! I know so many people that have improved their lifestyle because of them xx

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