My Experience Wearing a Fitness Tracker for a Year

In late February 2017, I started wearing a fitness tracking band. I bought a Fitbit Charge 2 HR, which tracks all sorts of wonderful bits of data such as steps, heart rate, sleep, and probably other stuff. I’ve been wearing it a lot less often lately, but for most of the past year, I wore it almost every day. For a data nerd like myself, this is a potential treasure trove of pivot tables and charts!

But, before diving into almost a year’s worth of activity tracking, I should mention that I’m not sure if this is actually interesting to anyone but me. When I think about it, would I be interested in what some middle aged desk jockey’s Fitbit spits out about his slow jogging patterns? Probably not. But, I think I was able to gain some valuable insight into losing weight and fighting a sedentary lifestyle from a white collar suburbanite’s perspective. And perhaps someone with similar lifestyle and situation would find some value in this discussion.

First, I should establish the baseline prior to starting this Fitbit experiment. As I journey through my mid-thirties, I’ve found myself in what is probably a common situation for a decently-sized subset of Americans:

  • Not obese, but a bit overweight. At the beginning of 2017, I found myself often hovering closer to 230 lbs than 220, which starts to be an uncomfortable weight for me.
  • Some exercise, but not as much as I’d like. I’ve always jogged and done some light weights, but it can be sporadic. Who has the time, right? Sometimes, I’ll have a great week, others I’ll only run once…or not at all.
  • Pretty bad diet, and an unwillingness to change significantly. I just love food, especially pizza. And of course, garbage food is cheap and easy.
Weight in Pounds

Figure 1. My weight in pounds over time. The Fitbit purchase was in February, I put a weight loss plan into place in early June, and bought a smartscale at the end of June. You can see the weight inputs were more frequent and detailed after I received the new scale.

My weight has always fluctuated, which I’m sure is true for most people. As you can see from the chart, fluctuations started drifting up towards 230 or so by March or April 2017. When I got on the scale on June 1st, and it actually hit 230 straight up, I realized that I needed to make a few concrete changes. I had full understanding that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do anything severely drastic, though. I’m not a guy who will go for radical diets or extreme CrossFit-style workouts, and I know this about myself. But I have a willingness to make smaller changes, and usually stick with them for a while.

My plan was simple, and had two parts. First, I would modify breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. I switched from lunch either being sandwiches/chips or fast food, to just eating a combination of tuna, crackers, cheese, and almonds. I also changed from nothing for breakfast to eating a big handful of plain wheat bran cereal. The goal with the wheat cereal was to tame my hunger early, so I wasn’t ravenous by lunchtime. I changed nothing about dinner or weekend food, because losing some junk food time would have destroyed my willpower and I wouldn’t have stuck with it. Second part, I committed myself to running at least three time per week, no exceptions aside from being out of town.

Percentage Body Fat

Figure 2. My percentage body fat over time. Body fat percentage calculations were generated from the smartscale, which was purchased in late June.

This strategy actually worked! I’ve been able to stick with it for about eight months, and have lost around 20 pounds. Because it wasn’t too drastic, I was comfortable integrating the changes into my routine. My body fat percentage, according to Fitbit and my smartscale, has had a corresponding decrease as well. Interestingly, my resting heart rate has also improved over this time period. I’m not sure that just losing weight itself caused that, but as I lost weight, I found running to be a bit easier. Subsequently, I was able to push myself more and run longer, so I think that’s where the resting heart rate improvement from about 72 to 67 came from. I think when I started the fitness tracking process, Fitbit told me my Cardio Fitness score was either in the low Average zone, or possibly in the Fair category. So, there is another tangible improvement.

Resting Heart Rate & Cardio Level

Figure 3. Resting heart rate and cardio fitness levels over the past year, since approximately February 2017. Screen captures from the Fitbit app. Unfortunately, this data cannot be exported.

I’ve also included some activity graphs below, tracking hours of active time and total steps. I’m not really sure many interesting conclusions can be made from it, but hey – graphs are fun, so I had to make more. Looking at figure 4 does make me wonder what exactly I was doing on December 2nd where I was active for 11 hours!

Active Hours Per Day

Figure 4. Hours of active time per day. Red represents “very active” time, orange is “fairly active” time, and gray is “lightly active.” Fitbit describes very active as “moderate to intense activity,” probably as measured by heart rate and motion.

Total Steps Per Day

Figure 5. Total steps per day. Zero or extremely low tallies typically represented days where I either didn’t wear the band, or only wore it for part of the day.

Most days over the past year, I’ve also worn the Fitbit to sleep. I don’t know if this is consistent with other users, but in my experience its sleep tracking is fairly inaccurate. The tracker sometimes counted me as asleep at weird times, and often thought I was awake in the middle of the night when I was definitely asleep. Just based on my estimation of the possibly skewed awake/asleep times, I have a feeling the REM/deep/light sleep estimates aren’t exactly atomic clock accurate either. I don’t really know much about REM and deep sleep levels, anyway. All I know is, on work nights I usually get 6-7 hours of sleep, and the low end is probably too low.

Hours Asleep Versus Awake

Figure 6. Hours asleep per night versus hours awake in bed. I’ve found Fitbit’s sleep detection to be fairly inaccurate.

Hours of Sleep by Type

Figure 7. Hours of REM, Light, and Deep Sleep.

So, what’s the main takeaway from all of this? Well, for me the biggest one is that making incremental lifestyle changes and integrating them into your routine can have tangible results. It takes time (real results took 6-8 months for me). And it’s not going to give you drastic results (I still look pretty much the same, but I do feel better). Another good takeaway is that if you like data, and want to analyze your fitness results, Fitbit is a solid route to take. Fitbit also has lots of eating and diet tracking, which I didn’t get into because it was too much work. Also, the Weight Gurus Bluetooth Smartscale worked pretty well, and integrated with my Fitbit.

As I said at the top, there’s a good chance this entire thing was only interesting to me. But if even one person thought it was helpful, then that’s a great bonus!

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