I get asked fairly often do I think Fitbits and other fitness trackers are worth the money. These questions come almost exclusively from folks who are new to physical fitness. Maybe they have begun a new exercise regimen. Or, they may still be in the contemplation stage, trying to gather all the information they need for success. I have mixed emotions about if I think Fitbits are worth the money for anyone and will get into that. But first, I will address what a Fitbit is and how they are utilized by fitness enthusiasts.
What is a Fitbit?
Fitbit is a brand name for what is essentially a glorified pedometer. You can find many of these on the market available from different manufacturers. These devices when combined with apps work together to deliver a complete, connected and fun experience that’s available at any time. With these fitness trackers, you can track your activity, exercise, food, weight, sleep, heart rate and more for real-time information, day and night. That is pretty handy to say the least. The question is, are these devices accurate with their data? Common sense would say that accuracy is going to all depend on the quality of your tracker.
What you will find is they are usually pretty good for counting steps, but when it comes to distance, some are more accurate than others. You could believe you are walking or jogging, lets say three miles by your fitness tracker data, and then discover that you are actually only doing two and a half miles. Conversely, you could find yourself going even farther than your target of three miles.
Another issue with fitness trackers comes from tracking you caloric burn. Some are going to be fairly accurate while others are wildly off. If you are one who likes to eat extra calories based on the calories your fitness tracker said you burned, you could very easily find yourself not losing weight. In fact, if your caloric burn is not accurately reflected, you could even find yourself gaining weight if you eat the extra calories.
If you are in weight loss mode, you really need to know exactly how many calories a day you need to consume in order to lose body fat and really consider going easy on consuming more based on what you believe you may have burned extra through exercise. It is my observation that many people will underestimate the amount of calories they eat, and greatly over rate the amount of calories they believe they have burned each day.
The bottom line is, based on your gender, age, weight, and activity level, you require a certain amount of calories each day in order to maintain your weight. If you desire to lose one pound per week, you need to reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories per day, or 3500 calories per week in order to achieve that amount of weight loss. Your fitness tracker can hurt your weight loss effort if the data it gives you is not accurate.
A lot of today’s fitness trackers will monitor your heart rate, which is good if, once again, if the data is accurate. They are usually most accurate when you are at rest, and lose accuracy once your heart rate elevates during exercise. While there may be a legitimate benefit to monitoring your heart rate with a fitness device, know that this data is not accurate enough for medical purposes.
These devices are probably good enough to inform the user of general trends in their heart rate, but it is important to have more accurate information when physicians are relying on this data to make decisions on medications or other tests and treatments. Also, where this applies to you, the end user, is if you have or had heart problems, bad data can give you a false sense of confidence in your physical capabilities. You could believe your heart is healthier than it may actually be. A released study by the American College of Cardiology showed these devices can be off by up to 34 beats per minute. All this being said, I do not believe that any of the manufactures market their products as a medical device.
The prices of fitness trackers range from as low as $25 to upwards of a couple hundred dollars. Are they worth the money? Well, that is all dependent on the quality of the device you purchase and it’s accuracy. Just my humble opinion, but if a device is not accurate, then it is not worth a penny in my book. But, you might find them to be really useful for your purposes. Their value is entirely subjective to the individual wearing it and what they hope to achieve by using the data they collect from their device. My advice to anyone considering buying a fitness tracker whom may also be tight on funds is to ask yourself a few questions;
- Have I been at an exercise regimen long enough to know that I am in it for the long haul and will not quit when the going gets tough?
- What do I hope to achieve by using a fitness tracker?
- How useful is the information really going to be for me? Is the data going to help me run farther and faster. Is it going to be the holy grail that gets me into good physical condition?
- Instead of a fitness tracker, would I be better off spending that money on a good pair of shoes? This question really is pretty important to consider as a cheap pair of shoes can derail you from your efforts before you truly even get started. If you are heavy, then a cheap pair of shoes is going to be your worse enemy as proper arch support and cushion is a prerequisite towards becoming a runner. Poor arch support can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This condition comes from the numerous complex tissues, muscles and bones that can become damaged quite easily if your feet are not properly protected when you run. The foot has a thick, fibrous band of tissue called the fascia that reaches from the heel to the toes and provides support to the muscles and arch of the foot. When this tissue becomes overly stretched, tiny tears can occur on the surface, resulting in pain and severe discomfort. Trust me, if you do not care for your feet, that fitness tracker is not gong to do a thing for you while you are recuperating.
- Another issue to consider when deciding on a fitness tracker over a quality pair of shoes is a fitness tracker will no more prevent you from getting Shin Splints than it will Plantar Fasciitis. Shin Splints are also referred to as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome. The cause is stress on your shinbone and the connective tissues that attach the muscles to your bones. They get inflamed and very painful. Shin Splints can happen from flat feet, or over pronation, when the impact of a step makes your foot’s arch collapse. They can be cause by shoes that do not fit well or provide good support and by weak ankles, hips or core muscles. Another preventive measure is to ensure you warm up before and cool down after exercise. Know that your fitness tracker does nothing to help this. It will give you no warning that your legs or feet are about to be in terrible pain. You are better off in having good shoes over any fitness tracker on the market.
But, I really like to know my heart rate when running in order to get maximum fat burning benefits….
Always be sure that your doctor has cleared you before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Heart rate training can benefit almost everyone who exercises. The key is to exercise at a rate where you elevate your heart rate into the optimum training zone. You really do not need a fitness tracker. Here are seven easy steps that will help you to calculate your ideal heart rate training zone.
- Calculate your maximum heart rate with a simple paper and pencil calculation. Simply subtract your age from 220. This result is an age predicted maximum beats per minute. Note, this method does not take in account your fitness level or inherited genes. This can make your true maximum rate 10 to 20 beats higher or lower than the age predicted number. Your best heart rate can actually be detected by our ability to speak during a run or jog. If you can barely, or not speak, your heart rate is too high. Slow yourself down. If you can speak easy, your heart rate is too low. Step up your pace until you can have a labored conversation.
- Determine your resting heart rate. Take your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning. Do this for several days in a row to get consistent readings.
- Calculate your heart rate reserve. Subtract your heart’s resting rate from your maximum rate. For example, if you are 40 years old, then subtract that number from 220, your max heart rate is 180 beats per minute. Next, subtract your resting rate or 80 as an example. Your heart rate reserve is 100 beats per minute. This heart rate reserve represents the cushion-heartbeats available for exercise.
- Calculate your aerobic training heart rate for fat burning. This fat burning range is between 50 and 75% of your heart rate reserve.
- Calculate your aerobic training heart rate for fitness. This range, required to improve aerobic endurance is higher than that needed for fat burning. It ranges between 75 and 85% of your heart rate reserve.
- Calculate your aerobic-anaerobic threshold heart rate range. This range represents the upper limits of aerobic exercise. Or, the point just before you push yourself into exhaustive anaerobic work. Exercising at this intensity is usually done to improve athletic performance. It is not recommended for weight loss. The range to get to this point is between 85 and 90% of your heart rate reserve. Know also that operating at this intensity level will not burn body fat. It becomes a carbohydrate (muscle-glycogen) burning exercise.
- Calculate your anaerobic training heart rate range. This is an all out effort and represents 90 to 100% of the cushion of your heart rate reserve. The goal here is to go as fast as you can for as long as you can. At this level you are achieving a pure anaerobic, carbohydrate burning, exhaustive, lactic acid producing exercise. This is truly no pain-no gain type training.
Whether you feel the need or not to buy a Fitbit or any other fitness tracker, do so with knowledge. Fitness trackers have their utility for a lot of people. However, do not put off beginning a new exercise program because you do not have one. If your money situation is tight, consider investing in a quality pair of shoes first. Get into a good routine for a few months to where you know if you will stick with it. Then save your money in order to buy a quality fitness tracker at a later date. Your feet and legs will appreciate this, I guarantee.