My Fitbit Experiment: End of the Line

To wrap up this Fitbit experiment, I'd like to address some of the comments from my previous articles. (See: My Fitbit Experiment: Week 2 and My Fitbit Experiment, Day 1.)

Nemos said “At first I want to give you congratulations because of the above graphs (especially the step graph) it looks like that you have a fit and active life. (I hope it is not only for the experiment purposes).”

Thank you Nemos, but I haven't really been too active in the last month. During this entire experiment I haven't gone to the gym, haven't done any running, swimming, kayaking, etc. Like most of us, I work at an office job, and I am mostly sedentary during the work day. So perhaps a useful aspect to the Fitbit is how active it will show we actually can be on the average day as long as we remember to use it. The goals it has set for us are entirely realistic.

On that note, the Fitbit's accuracy does depend on what type of activities you're doing and how you're wearing the device.

On that Sunday, the Fitbit is claiming I was sedentary for over five hours. Let me go through that Sunday with you. Woke up at 8:30 a.m. Dishes and laundry were started at 9:00 a.m. By 11:00 a.m., I was removing nails from house siding and gathering large pieces of siding from the basement; break at 12:30 p.m. From 2:00 to 8:00 p.m. I was cutting plywood and siding. Another break and then it was time to do a dog walk. Asleep by 11:30 p.m. That day I was keeping the Fitbit in my pocket instead of on my wristband.

On days like that you can really see just how step-dependent the Fitbit is. There have been other days when I've done nothing but hang out on my computer all day with the Fitbit attached to my wrist, and somehow my sedentary hours are closer to two or three. It makes no sense to me.

Bolaji asked, “Seriously, is the Fitbit going to catch on and become a mainstay product or will it fizzle out and end up in the buyers' attics?”

Good question. I imagine many of us have those closets filled with old and unused electronics, and the Fitbit may get lost in that seemingly infinite space as well. But this market is in its infancy, and its usefulness is currently limited. As it matures and adds more features, we'll see it move out of the fad electronic phase.

As elctrnx_lyf said: “Something to track the number of steps is easy. But something that can track our sleep, oh definitely not that easy.”

Right. The step tracker, the stairs climbed tracker, those are all easy things. The calories in/out, the sleep monitoring, the activity level, those are all just estimates that can vary daily in accuracy. These products need more than just a step and stairs tracker in order to really catch on.

{complink 317|Analog Devices Inc.} is on it. On August 6, Analog Devices announced a low-power, single-lead heart-rate monitor (AD8232 AFE). It's 50 percent smaller and uses 20 percent less power than other solutions, and the price is just $1.36/1k unit. It's available this month, so I don't think it's unrealistic to see a Fitbit type of product with a built-in heart-rate monitor at under $150 sometime next year.

Home healthcare is a huge market, and it can't exist without data collection, which is where products like the Fitbit come in. Worldwide we're looking at over 860 million people suffering from chronic disease and over 600 million seniors wanting to “age in place” instead of go to a nursing home. That doesn't even include people looking to lose weight.

Above we can look at the summary for the month's activities. I tried to log my calories, but even when over-estimating, it just seems completely off. After July 27 I just started estimating about 1,680 calories eaten per day, and I only matched one day's worth of calories burned.

To lose one pound we're supposed to burn 500 calories a day, 3,500 calories a week, 14,000 calories a month. If I overestimate every day I eat and just assume I ate 1,680 calories every day, then I'd have taken in a total of 47,040 calories and burned off a total of 26,860, and that's not including the days where I forgot to wear the Fitbit. So I should have lost around 7 lbs., and I haven't. If I really overestimate and say I ate 2,000 calories every day, then I still burned off an extra 18,000 calories, then I should have lost around 4 lbs., and I haven't.

These charts really show that I'm much more active over the weekends than the weekdays, and those days where I forgot to wear the Fitbit really show.

All in all, get the Fitbit if you're looking to lose weight. But get two. One for you and one for your friend, and compete. Otherwise wait for that heart-rate monitor to up the accuracy.

As for me, I'm signing off the whole Fitbit thing for now. Ignorance is bliss.

10 comments on “My Fitbit Experiment: End of the Line

  1. Clairvoyant
    August 9, 2012

    Great information, Michell. The FitBit shows a lot of good information. It would really be great if they can improve on the accuracy of it. I can see how it could be a lot of fun and make a game out of it by competing against friends.

  2. Anand
    August 9, 2012

    That day I was keeping the Fitbit in my pocket instead of on my wristband.

    @Michell, this is one big disadvantage of such devices. All the measurements made by such devices are relative. I think device should be programmed in such a way that , it should take the reading only when it is tied to wrist. This will make sure that the device records the valid data.

  3. Cryptoman
    August 9, 2012

    Fitbit has managed to pack an impressive set of features at an affordable cost to the user. However, the logged data reliability seems to be a bit questionable.

    Recently, I came across an impressive range of products by Polar that are designed for activity monitoring for people who are into sports and want to know 'exactly' how their body is reacting to training sessions as well as their overall progress and rate of burning fat. There is a huge range of options depending on what you want to achieve. The best part of it all is the numbers you get apply to you only as you program the monitoring device with your personal details first. The device then recommends a workout schedul suitable to your particular goals.

    I must also add that Polar products are not cheap and a basic kit has a price tag of around 129 Euros, which will go up if you decide to add a chest strap for more accurate heart rate readings. There are even options that come with GPS tracking!

    You know what they say: “You get what you pay for”.

    August 9, 2012

    Hi M.  If you are installing siding all day I doubt you need to worry about your calorie intake.  Thanks for all the fun posts on the subject ot FITBIT.

  5. Michell Prunty
    August 10, 2012

    One of the big selling points to the Fitbit is its form factor, people want to option to wear their fitness tracker in different ways, not just on the wristband.  Additionally, a fitness tracker that only sometimes tracks data wouldn't be as useful.

    There definitely needs to be some improved math for to account for where its being worn on the body though.

  6. Michell Prunty
    August 10, 2012

    Thanks for the tip on Polar, Cryptoman.  The fitness trackers from sports enthusiasts seem much more exciting than the fitness trackers for just losing weight or getting healthy.  We need a combo that hits right at the intersection maybe?

  7. Nemos
    August 10, 2012

    “Ignorance is bliss” hahaha yes sometimes it is, So I have to say well done , excellent job but have in mind that if you want to lose weight you have to count also some others parameters as well. For example the quality of the food( kind, how much cooked etc ).


  8. mfbertozzi
    August 12, 2012

    @Michell: it is a very amazing editorial, I have really appreciated, including posts from EBN community. While reading the article, I was thinking of an additional use of Fitbit, in terms of applications for studying nomadic behaviour of people and then tuning better mobile or wifi downtown coverage.

  9. Michell Prunty
    August 13, 2012

    Thanks for everyone's kind comments!

    @mfbertozzi – that would be a useful application since the Fitbit is worn 24 / 7, and if I remember correctly Apple has admitted to doing the same thing with the iPhone. 

    @Nemos – Oh man, I'm not sure I could handle having to track calories and then regulate them to “good” or “bad” calories (that bag of dark chocolate M&Ms is “good” right?  right??).  Would it even be possible to create a system that could track that in a Fitbit type of environment?

  10. mfbertozzi
    August 14, 2012

    @Michell: well done, you are right, as far as I know, it was strictly related to iPhone in a sort of “proprietary” manner, anyway your post it is giving light to a new the in looking for portable apps ! – Thx.

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