The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Fitbit and My (and Your) Health

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 19, 2014

I was talking to a colleague yesterday about the Fitbit, as she was considering buying one, and she had seen my Force on my wrist.  It’s been a little over a month since I got my Fitbit Force, a birthday present from my wife and children.  In that time, I’ve discovered that on an average day I take about 14,000 steps, climb 26 floors a day, and burn about 2800 calories a day.  The device scratches my itch for knowing more about my activity each day, and I like checking my dashboard every morning to see what my day was like before.

But has the Fitbit actually changed my behavior?  Has it made me more fit, more active?  Probably not significantly, although you might argue that simply being aware of my activity (or on a few days, my LACK of activity) has shaped my behavior.  I haven’t started a new fitness routine, but I do make sure I get up and walk around during the workday now and then, so that I don’t see large gaps of movement in my daily timeline.  I also tend to get out and climb 15 or 20 flights of stairs at least once a day at work now, since I’ve set a target for myself in my Fitbit Dashboard to climb 40 flights a day.

I’ve seen a number of blog posts from people lately talking about how they’ve abandoned their Fitbit / Fuelband / etc, because they didn’t feel it actually did anything for them.  I’m sure there are an awful lot of people who have abandoned their diets and New Year’s workout resolutions as well, and the real reason behind that is likely more due to simple human behavior and the difficulty of making new habits than anything else.  So far, I’m still committed to the Fitbit, but that’s likely because I like looking at the digital trails of my life and analyzing them to see how I can change them.

But in my mind, we’re in the very early stages of what personal fitness trackers will do, akin to the days of the original Palm Pilot or the Motorola Razr flip-phone.  I still rely on my iOS app Strava to track my cycling training, because the Fitbit doesn’t accurately track cycling activity.  I’m still shopping around for a heartrate monitor, because the Fitbit doesn’t track pulse (or other biological metrics).  In short, to capture all of the information I’d want to capture, I still have purchase and carry multiple devices, and in many cases, I still have to rely on manual entry of data (I don’t track my weight or calories consumed because that seems like more effort than it’s worth for me right now).

Someday soon, devices should be able to automate a lot of those things that they don’t today, and offer a much more complete picture of one’s health and fitness.  And while athletes of all shapes and sizes might benefit from this evolution, everyday individuals could also benefit, particularly individuals who suffer from chronic disease.  Google’s “smart contact lens” is just one example of the ways that we’ll be able to monitor and track key health metrics and upload them to the cloud, to be combined with other metrics and help us form a better picture of ourselves.

Of course, as my colleague noted yesterday, that comes with some interesting challenges as well.  Who will “own” that data, and who will access it, and for what purposes?  Will insurance companies insist on having access to your activity logs in order to qualify you for a “fitness discount”?  And will we be ok with that? (I think I would, provided there’s adequate protections on my data).  And then there’s the question of whether we’ll all be better off with a lot of data about our health.  Will we tend to self-diagnose ourselves, and will we do it correctly?  Will our relationship with our doctors become better, or more distant?  How can we use all of this data in an intelligent fashion to improve our health, not jeopardize it?  As with most elements of technology, the implications of what’s coming go far beyond the capabilities themselves, and we’ll be challenged to make smart decisions in order for the technology to work best for us. 

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One Response

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  1. --K. said, on February 20, 2014 at 1:27 am

    Interesting post! I’ve been considering getting a Fitbit in hopes that my analyst brain might be motivated by the immediacy of real-time concrete data. I figure even if it just pushes me to take the stairs instead of the elevator a few times a day, or take an extra spin around the block when I get home from work, every little bit helps.

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