A Fitness Tracker as Motivation to Move

I spoilt myself a year ago and bought a Fitbit Charge 2. I used to have a Polar heart rate monitor to keep track of my heart rate while I was pregnant. Just to make sure I did not overheat during exercise and hurt the baby. And although it is still working, I was a bit tired of the chest strap and wanted to try a fitness tracker that measures the heart rate on the wrist.

I researched wrist based fitness trackers on the Internet for a couple of days as there are so many on the market. Reviews.com has done a review on 10 fitness trackers of the 4 largest manufacturers with regard to their comfort, ease of use and data delivery (the app). The review is very helpful as it also shows you the shortcomings of trackers in general, for example the inability to accurately count steps (too many activities we do in daily life seem like steps to the trackers).

In the end I decided to go with the Fitbit Charge 2 as I do not require it to be waterproof (I am not much of a swimmer) or have GPS (the Fitbit Charge 2 only tracks GPS if you pair it with your smart phone to map data). It also got some good reviews in terms of the accuracy of its non-stop heart rate measurements. It shows time and date, steps, heart rate, distance, calories burned, floors climbed and activity minutes on the display. You can even choose what watch face suits your needs best and select your preferred information to be displayed accordingly.

The app is simple to set up and understand – it pretty much explains itself. It is easy to use and it contains a lot of information. It tracks everything you could wish for: activity, sleep, food and water intake and weight loss. You just need to input personal basic information so the Fitbit can do its thing: height, weight, age, gender and if you like, goals. Goals can be your weight target, how many times or how long you want to exercise, how much you want to sleep or water you want to drink.

The tracker measures your resting heart rate and then tells you “how fit” you are compared to statistics of other people in your gender and age group at your weight and height. I like that feature as it is very motivating: you can work on your cardio fitness and push that number up over time. To get the most accurate setup the app asks you to go for a run on even terrain. By doing so the app can calculate your stride length for example.

I also wear the Fitbit while I sleep. It shows you how long you spend in deep sleep, in light sleep, in REM phase (dreaming) and awake. It shows you the total hours and also gives you benchmark numbers so you can compare your sleep to others in your age group and gender.

But, of course, I was most interested to see how I was doing in my workouts, of which most are circuit based HIIT workouts. I was curious what my heart rate measurements would be as I had read that wrist based heart rate tracking was not very accurate (which is why some trackers can be used with a chest strap). Here is a photo of how the app breaks down one of my typical circuit training workouts:

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On this day, according to the app, I had a peak heart rate of 170, and an average heart rate of 137 bpm. I burnt 540 calories in 65 minutes.

In a detailed chart I can see that I had spent 17 min in the fat burn zone (i.e. over 88 bpm), 30 min in the cardio zone (i.e. over 123 bpm) and 19 min in the peak zone (i.e. over 149 bpm). These zones are based on the max heart rate calculation of 220 bpm minus age, which, of course, is not very accurate in itself (this will be a topic for another blog post). In this case, peak is calculated as a heart rate of greater than 85% of the max heart rate and cardio is calculated as the heart rate between 70 and 84% of your max heart rate.

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Here is an example of a spinning class, which probably is one of the most intense workouts I do:

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Even though the maximum heart rate and corresponding heart zone calculations are based on a not very accurate formula (220 minus age), I still think that the Fitbit gives you a good indication of how hard you are training and shows you progress over time.

All in all, I definitely feel motivated to get up and move around the house when the Fitbit reminds me that I have not moved in a while. It is also motivating me to push hard in my workouts. I would for example commit to train until I have reached 300 calories (or even 600 calories in a spinning session!) or walk 10,000 steps in one day. I also like that I can keep track of my water intake as I am not sure sometimes if I drink enough water. It has totally replaced my watch now and, with its simple black design, looks sleek and inconspicuous. It needs charging about every 5 days.

Based on my experience I would recommend the Fitbit Charge 2 to people who are into gadgets and fitness or are simply looking for additional motivation to get moving that goes beyond simple step counting. You can get it for approximately USD 150 on Amazon.

 

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