My Fitbit Experience

I recently acquired a “Fitbit Charge 4”. It’s a device you wear on your wrist to monitor your daily activities, from steps to sleeps.

It connects via Bluetooth to a compatible device running the Fitbit app. In my case that ended up being a tablet running Android 7.0 (this is the minimum requirement). There is a Windows 10 app (along with an Apple-compatible one) but I couldn’t get my laptop’s Bluetooth talking with it. There is also the Fitbit website where you can also log in to view your stuff. The devices doesn’t need to be continually connected, so you can just periodically “sync” it and move on, which is what I’ve been doing.

I have now been using the Fitbit device for over a week to monitor my sleeping, running and cycling. I thought I would therefore take this opportunity to do a review of that time. I have not only been using the accompanying app and website to log and view my daily stuff, but I’ve been closely scrutinising the results and charts and adding my own embellishments, such as cat symbols for when the cat wakes me in the night, thought clouds when I’ve recalled a dream, and distance* and terrain data when I’ve cycled.

Here I have added three cats because my cat woke me up three times.

I added “thought clouds” to the charts to denote when I’ve recalled a dream; these often occur when waking in/after a period of REM sleep.

For my running chart I hover my mouse over the point of highest heart rate whilst making a snapshot since the doesn’t otherwise show it.

I add a lot more to the cycling charts including (blue) terrain graph from GoogleMaps, points when I’ve stopped mid-ride, weather and also distance*. I’ve been also adding a coloured square to some charts to denote my personal feeling about how well an activity went.

*Because I turn off the GPS feature (more on this later) the device can’t log distance, so I determine this myself from creating a GoogleMap of the route I took (I also have a ‘cyclometer’ on my bike).

Logging my daily efforts in this way takes time, and while I feel like it’s more beneficial to use the device/service/app/tool actively like this (rather than to simply let the app log everything, without me being ‘mindful’ of, and building on, what is being recorded) I don’t intend to keep up my usage in this way. I have a few reasons for this, but I think of it as being similar to other personal development techniques and tools (as I consider this to be a part of) which can begin to take somewhat of a back seat after a while and provide less and less meaningful benefit. Like my To Do lists where I get into the routine of writing them, but not actively pursuing the things on them.

I’ll now go into detail about the following:

  • Sleeping
  • Running and Cycling
  • Other areas
    • Peak/Average bpm
    • Heart health and fatigue
    • Steps, calories and food
    • Oxygen variation
    • EMF, GPS and Google
    • Battery life

Sleeping

Simply recording my sleeping habits day/week/month-in-day/week/month-out, might provide an interesting record that I can look back on, but that is not the purpose for me. I’ve used the device to log my sleep for the past week and it has provided an interesting insight. It has also changed my habits somewhat too. I believe I have good sleeping habits in that I generally go to bed at what seems like a reasonable time, and with enough time to allow me to read a book and relax, I’m also aware of the impact of eating late in the evening or consuming caffeine late in the day has.

With a regular sleeping time I am able to get up at a regular time, it’s mostly down to how physically active I am in a day that impacts how much sleep I need. The Fitbit Sleep chart has shown me how my sleep goes through its different phases of Light, Deep and REM sleep, something I was keen to see. This has made an imprint on my mind and while I was quite often able to recall my dreams previously (keeping a Dream Diary helps), the Fitbit chart corroborated this and showed that, generally, if I wake (or am woken) during a period of REM sleep, I will more often than not be able to recall my dreams from that period (one needs to be active in this regard and set their mind to the task of writing down a dream, irrespective of how much can be recalled, and of course have a pen and paper to hand).

After using the Fitbit for a good few days I have found that as I drift into consciousness after a dream has played out (because I’m used to then doing my best to write down what has occurred), I then consider the time and perhaps decide to get up (I’d been making a note of the time along side the dream details to compare with the Fitbit data later). I have found that I feel at my best if I wake up proper following a dream, providing I’ve had enough sleep, rather than letting myself go back to sleep and risking next waking up at a less favourable moment, such as during deep sleep.

I have heard it said that a sleep cycle is of a particular length, and with this in mind I have tried in the past to set an alarm for a time based on this, but with no success. The Fitbit device provides the option to set an alarm (it vibrates) for the optimal moment near a given time. I have used this once to good effect and did so on a morning where I had an early start planned. Other mornings have not needed to be so dictated so I have preferred to use my usual alarm and at my usual time.

The Fitbit app ‘awards’ you for a good night’s sleep, but I have not found this to be beneficial since it seems to base its determination on the length of the sleep. My sister also uses a Fitbit and agrees with me on this. We all need a certain number of hours sleep each night, but I have found it better to wake at the right moment, providing the number of hours sleep have been roughly met. I could wake up an hour early one morning, for example, but if I wake at that right moment I’ll feel good, whereas if I wake up an hour “late”, but at the wrong moment, then I’ll have a “rough” morning, or even “struggle” for the rest of the day – I’ll not likely feel at my best, lack the motivation for my morning run, and fail to get focussed on my list of tasks for the day, for example. I have past experiences of waking up very early but feeling great about getting up and getting on with some productive things (one just has to consider than an early night might be in order later!)

Since I have these considerations on my mind now I don’t see any benefit to continually wearing the Fitbit device each and every night. Perhaps instead I might choose to wear it for mornings when using its wake function will be beneficial.

Running and Cycling

These are two activities I try to be in a routine of doing each day. Mostly running each day is something I have often struggled with, but the Fitbit has helped me here; the act of logging a run and having another chart to look at and compare with has provided me with added motivation. There have been some typical mornings where I’ve had second thoughts about going for a run, but then I think about the chart I would miss out on, and that spurs me on and gets me out the door.

The charts have been quite useful too. I can see my heart’s average and peak bpm (beats per minute) and both provide me with encouragement; the former to keep my pace up and the latter to push for a final sprint (I only check these later through the app/website; I ignore the device on my wrist whilst I’m out). I would like to see both heart rates increase over time and doing the same run each day (presently just two miles) enables me to compare like-for-like.

Cycling on the other hand is more varied. I usually manage to go out for a daily “ride round the block” (as I call it), which sometimes includes errands or a trip to a shop. On other days I might be cycling for work and be travelling further. Weather is varied too, with wind and rain to battle against on some days.

Something I heard about some years ago, and is backed up by the Fitbit data (and I’m not more focussed on), is that a short run or cycle with good effort is generally “better” than going for a longer duration without such effort. The charts show (and the device alerts me to) when I’m in a state of ‘fat burning’ or ‘cardio’, and it’s cardio I’m keen to improve.

My short runs have room for improvement; gradually over the weeks and months of continued effort I would like to see my pace increase, something I have not yet managed to achieve. Only then, once this routine has become, say, “easy” (or I’m doing it most days and not progressing) might I then run further (I have done this in the past, but this seems to have been done to “make up for missed days” which has not been a helpful tactic, more personal punishment!) I know I can run further at the same kind of pace, but then it “takes more out of me” and I like to save some energy for other things, like cycling, lest fatigue be an issue, more on this in a moment.

My bike rides have been of a similar affair. I have never really succeeded in the tactic of pushing myself for a short distance, rather I go out for a longer ride at a more casual pace which I have a tendency/preference towards. I think there is some benefit in the latter, in that endurance can be built on both physically (as in the body’s ability to do a longer ride and then take on the food necessary to repeat the activity with less down time for recovery) and mentally (as in building on the confidence and learning what you’re capable of), but from what I understand my gains will come from improving on the shorter stints and building on ‘cardio’. I still want to enjoy my activities though.

Other areas

Peak/Average BPM

There have been some other things I have encountered and learned through this short Fitbit-experience so far. Firstly, that ones’ peak bpm is calculated by 220-age. So far I’ve got mine to within just 5 bpm short of what it should be for my age by doing a final sprint at the end of a run, or pushing myself up a hill on my bike. I feel like this gives me some headroom to push some more.

I realise now, and I more readily accept, that developing the average bpm is the way forward for me and this will take effort with each round of exercise, and for the duration of that exercise; I need to push my pace, and every little helps.

Bradycardia

Prior to getting the Fitbit, and when I was actually thinking about getting one some months ago, I had wondered if I had some “underlying heart issue” that was holding me back (it has been reported that in some cases a Fitbit has saved lives in this kind of way). I was diagnosed with asthma in my childhood but always kept myself physically active because I felt the benefits from doing so and felt the adverse effects of not. Or, perhaps my lack of improvement in things was just down to a lack of motivation, not pushing myself in the right ways, or not consuming enough of the right foods, vitamins and minerals. I’m more certain now that all of the above are a factor; heart health for sure. The Fitbit monitors and records your heart rate and I’ve found that while my heart rate when I’m pushing myself during exercise seems to go up in a normal manner, my resting heart rate is somewhat low. I looked up what a resting heart rate should be and for an adult that is normally 60-100 bpm, some say as low as 50 is okay. Mine is down there at 50 I’ve noticed, or dipping a little below when I’m sat in bed, relaxed reading a book.

As a condition this is called Bradycardia and on its own it is not a concern but “when symptomatic, it may cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, sweating, and at very low rates, fainting.” It’s also said that highly trained athletes can develop what’s known as “athletic heart syndrome”, and while I’m not up there with that class, perhaps, along with my relaxed state, my build and general tendencies and type, my physical activities have had a slight impact.

Fatigue

The only other thing I’ve had to contend with is fatigue (and may not being directly related) and this I mitigate by trying to keep my efforts at a similar level each day and not overdoing things one day since this tends to “catch up” with me a day or so later (like not getting enough sleep). When cycling a fair amount, for example, it’s important to eat enough/right in order to properly recover (having a general awareness of calories consumed/burned is helpful here).

Steps, calories and food

I should add that I’m not interested in logging my steps, calories/food in, or anything else that might be a normal activity where “it is what it is”. I’ve seen people do this, particularly with food (and if that works for you then great), but the risk is that the act of logging the thing becomes the be-all-and-end-all with little to no actual progress (again, this is why I want to keep my usage active).

Oxygen variation

Along with the Fitbit’s daily Sleep charts it also presented me with “Estimated Oxygen Variation” charts for each night, but for some reason, seemingly after I updated the device’s firmware after a few days use, these charts vanished. I have not been able to find out why or get them back. I’d only glanced at them and not made copies of them, but from what I did see they were all normal/okay with nothing of concern. I had considered that I had a tendency towards shallow breathing (particularly in the night) and that such monitoring might illustrate this, but alas my breathing has seemingly been okay lately and I don’t have these charts anyway.

[EDIT] It later turned out that I could scroll down to the oxygen variation chart on the the Fitbit app on my tablet, but on the sleep page on the website itself this chart is not present. Perhaps this is why I thought the chart was later missing. This is one of a number of ways the app varies from the website.

*EMF

Electro-Magnetic Frequencies are what are emitted by electrical devices in our homes, schools and work places. Some consider EMF to be a form of “pollution” and harmful to health, again, others might discount such a thing. Believe what you will. Wi-Fi is a significant contributor to this form of pollution and since the Fitbit device requires a Bluetooth connection (similar in essence to Wi-Fi) with an internet-connected device I temporarily turn my Wi-Fi router/connection on, and my tablet device which runs the necessary Fitbit app. Once “sync’d” and data transferred one can log in to the Fitbit website to review their Activities and accompanying charts. However the device operates in order to track and monitor what it does, it is electro-magnetic in nature and needs to against the skin to achieve this. There have been reports of some people suffering seemingly severe skin irritations or reactions to the device; it just so happened that after my first night’s sleep wearing the device I found the skin of my wrist to be swollen just where the sensors are located (I could even see their outline!)

Perhaps the wrist strap was a notch too tight that first night and I’ve been careful of that since, and not had that happen again, although I do occasionally feel some minor irritation or aches in my arm/wrist (aches like I only really felt when I donated blood; weird!) Again, this is an additional reason why I don’t want to wear the device all of the time, logging my status for everything I do, when I’m not going to act on that information.

GPS

The Fitbit device that one wears on the wrist also has a GPS feature. This enables the device to track your position (again, emitting EMF to achieve this), and it relays this data to Fitbit (when sync’d with the app) who then use GoogleMaps to show you where you’ve been. I elected to turn this feature off primarily because I didn’t want Fitbit logging this data, however, when the Firmware was updated (as mentioned above) I found GPS to be re-enabled, I then had to go through each Activity in turn on the device and disable GPS (prior to the update there was one option to achieve this).

Google

In addition to Fitbit using GoogleMaps, just after using my gadget for a week they informed me by email that they were now owned by Google. They didn’t use this exact phraseology but that’s essentially what it boils down to; Google will now own that data you’ve shared with the service; this, I believe is why we should be considerate of what data we share with any company, along with the possibility of data breaches.

This is another reason for me to use the whole thing with purpose and intent and not to mindlessly wear the thing out of habit and not use it in a meaningful way. You can delete each logged activity from within the app/website, although, who can know with certainty that the data is not still accessible/retrievable by someone/somewhere.

Battery Life

I found it stated that the Fitbit Charge 4 takes 1-2 hours to fully charge, and the battery will last up to 4 days without the GPS feature turned on, and up to 5 hours with it on. While I have not closely monitored the charging time, this seems about right, however, the way I use the device (intermittently and with the GPS off) I got a week’s use out of the battery before it reported it as being ‘low’. I prefer to use such gadgets in a way that takes them through full charge cycles rather that continually topping them up.


Those are my Fitbit experiences so far. I hope my continued usage, whilst it will be reduced, will continue to be beneficial to me. I hope this personal review will be helpful to others.

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