When Heather bought me a Fitbit wristband for Christmas, I thanked her politely and figured that it would be gathering dust in a drawer, abandoned and forgotten, within a couple of weeks.
I was wrong.
One month later, not only am I still wearing it religiously but it has prompted noticeable changes in my approach to exercise.
None of these are individually earth-shattering but that’s exactly the point. This isn’t about transforming me from couch potato to Olympic triathlete via an expensive membership to a gym that I will stop going to by mid-February. As British cycling supremo Dave Brailsford would say, it’s about an accumulation of marginal gains that add up to produce a significant result.
A little background. I’m about 15kg overweight, asthmatic and have type 2 diabetes. While I was quite sporty in my youth, these days I get out of breath just at the thought of going out for a run. There is about as much chance of me being mistaken for Mo Farah as there is of Mo being mistaken for a professional sumo wrestler.
I need to get healthier. But I also have a busy job, three kids and no base fitness. Easier said than done.
So how is the Fitbit making such a big difference? After all, at first glance it doesn’t do that much more than the Health app that comes with my iPhone, which I’ve opened up and gazed at curiously a few times but never actually used.
Here are just a few of the ways it has changed my behaviour:
1. I make a conscious effort to use the stairs instead of lifts and escalators whenever possible. About a week into using the Fitbit, I missed my daily goal of 10,000 steps by about 90 because I stepped on to a couple of short escalators at Paddington station rather than trotting up the steps. I’m not making that mistake again.
2. At work, I actively take the long way back to my desk and will walk to see people (it’s a big building) rather than phoning or instant messaging them. People think I’ve lost my mind but, hey, 100 extra steps!
3. Instead of circling car parks to seek out the closest available spot, I head straight for the furthest corner and bank a couple of hundred steps.
4. If I arrive somewhere early, I’ll use the time to do a brisk walk. I did this at an event in Reading last week. Instead of going inside for coffee and a bacon roll, I did four laps of the Madejski Stadium – nearly 3km, 4,000 steps and no calories consumed.
5. I regularly walk into town and back, a round-trip of 2km, as part of my mild exercise regime but I’ve now tagged on an extra section that adds an additional 1,000 steps, just because.
6. If it’s late in the evening and I’m a little short of my daily target, I’ll walk around the house or up and down the stairs a few times to make up the difference. (I know it sounds pathetic. I don’t care.)
Each of the above might not be worth much individually but cumulatively they soon add up. Which, given that I have a sedentary office job that means I might accumulate as few as 4,000 steps a day, makes a big difference.
All this isn’t going to make me super-fit overnight but I can measure the difference it’s making on a daily basis without me having to make a big commitment that I will struggle to keep.
Why the Fitbit works for me
It’s the simplicity of the Fitbit that appeals to me the most.
Unless I’m in the shower or recharging it, I wear the wristband 24/7 everywhere I go. This means I have a constant, subtle reminder of the commitment I’ve made and a simple press of a button instantly shows me how I’m doing.
It also syncs via Bluetooth to both my phone and my computer, giving me easy access to all my historical data so I can analyse how many steps I have taken, my sleep pattern, heart rate and so on.
Best of all, it’s always on. I don’t need to fire up an app or my watch. I don’t need to remember to slip my phone into my pocket. The Fitbit records every bit of activity, no matter how small.
It appeals to my competitive nature too. I like having short-term goals to aim for that I can fit around my daily routine. And Heather and I are regularly comparing data to see who’s performing better, which only stokes the competitive fire that bit more. (Particularly because she’s winning at the moment.)
Of course, there are alternative ways to track your activity. Manufacturers such as Garmin and Polar make fitness watches with more comprehensive features more suitable for runners and gym-goers. And both these and smartphones offer a variety of built-in or third-party apps that use GPS signals to monitor the distance you cover with greater accuracy.
The Fitbit isn’t the right solution for everyone. But, as someone who’s looking to make manageable changes to my lifestyle, it’s the right solution for me. Small steps, right?