Tracking fitness: Step by step |

Tracking fitness: Step by step

Kim Fuller
Special to the Weekly
The Fitbit Flex retails for $100, and is worn as a wristband. The device tracks your activity level, sleep quality, calories burned and distance traveled (which really translates to activity minutes, not exact distance).
Fitbit | Special to the Weekly |

Minturn resident Elise Reynolds has had a Fitbit Flex since mid-July. She was given her violet fitness tracker bracelet by Women’s Health magazine to test the device as one of their 2014 Action Heroes.

“The idea is to get 10,000 steps minimum per day, which is surprisingly hard now that I work in an office,” said Reynolds, who works at 970 Design in Edwards. “Like on Mondays and Tuesdays, if I don’t make a point to do something, I’ll only have like 3,000 steps.”

One step at a time

According to the Fitbit philosophy, “a morning jog, a walk during lunch, taking the stairs — these small changes add up to make a big difference,” as stated on the website. “Taking just 10,000 steps a day, as recommended by the American Heart Association, can lead to a healthier you. No matter how busy your schedule, Fitbit helps you make fitness a part of your daily routine.”

Support Local Journalism

The Fitbit Flex retails for $100 and is worn as a wristband. The device tracks your activity level, sleep quality, calories burned and distance traveled (which really translates to activity minutes, not exact distance). Fitbit wearers can program lights on the wristband to go off when they hit personal goals, and the Flex also vibrates to provide a subtle wake-up alarm.

And while there are other Fitbit styles and a number of fitness trackers available other than Fitbit Flex (Garmin Vivofit, Basis, Nike+ Fuelband SE, Withings Pulse, Jawbone UP24 and Misfit Shine, among others), they are all styled differently — some you wear, some you clip on — and the features vary.

No one tracker seems to “have it all,” quite yet, which is probably why there are so many out there. People tend to pick what works best for their lifestyle, and Fitbit is pretty universal and user friendly for generally active people or those looking to be more active; although it does not include fitness numbers that elite athletes or stat-lovers would be looking to track, including real-time heart rate and an altimeter.

Jesse Csincsak lives in Vail and was given a Fitbit Flex by his wife at the beginning of the summer.

“She bought it for me because we just had a baby, and I was coming home complaining that I was tired,” he said. “She does way more with the kids at nighttime than I do, of course, like any mother, so she was like ‘I wanna see why you are such a whiner.’”

Csincsak runs a property management company and works between Breckenridge and Aspen. He said he averages about 25,000 steps per day on his Fitbit.

“It’s pretty serious what you don’t realize you’re doing during the day,” he said. “As a property manger, I am constantly running through properties and handling different tasks; so we figured out why I get so tired.”

Csincsak explained that he likes the device, although he wishes he could see heart rate in relation to elevation.

“The only thing that I wish it did have that it doesn’t is heart rate and altitude,” he said. “I think it would be cool to track how many calories you burned, how many steps you did and at what altitude.”

Water and food intake can be logged as well, but Csincsak said that it’s not always easy to remember to add all the details to the database. He recommended adding in your intakes as soon as you consume.

“The food part is kinda interesting,” he said. “You get to see how many calories per day you eat, versus how many you burn, and I thought that was cool because I’m that guy who is always hungry — I am 155 pounds but I eat for a 300-pounder — and so for me it was interesting to see that I ate 3,500 calories, but have burned 3,700, so that’s why I’m hungry.”

Defining ‘active’

Fitbit trackers use a built-in accelerometer (a device that measures acceleration) to interpret physical motion of the body. The tracker then provides information about frequency, duration, intensity and patterns of movement to determine how many steps someone has taken, as well as the distance he or she has traveled, calories burned and amount and quality of sleep.

So what if you don’t walk, but you bike up a mountain pass instead? Still great exercise, no doubt. But for Fitbit to recognize a step, the motion and acceleration must be large enough.

Wearers will achieve “very active minutes” while doing cardio workouts and high-intensity activities like jogging and running, but active minute counts will be lower for activities like weight lifting, yoga and cycling, which are not primarily step-driven. This may make you wonder: Would USA Pro Challenge cyclists meet their 10,000 steps per day,after they have sped through miles in the triple digits?

The cyclists certainly won’t get as many Fitbit steps as it would take them to walk or jog that mileage, but if they manually log their cycling time, distance, etc., into their Fitbit database, then they will achieve an abundance of active minutes.

Fitbit trackers calculate active minutes using metabolic equivalents (MET) — units that are used to represent the amount of oxygen used by a body during physical activity. A MET of 1 indicates a body at rest; active minutes are earned on the Fitbit for all minutes at or above 6 METs.

The more active minutes achieved, the more calories burned, tracked by the Fitbit as an estimation from a wearer’s height, weight, age and gender — data provided when someone sets up a Fitbit account.

Angela Muzic, certified personal trainer at the Vail Athletic Club and the Minturn Fitness Center, said she currently has three clients who use Fitbit. She explained that while most fitness trackers are good for cardio fitness, they don’t have as much relevance for strength and weight-training work. In general, they can be good motivational tools for maintaining fitness and working toward goals, she said.

“I would rather have someone move because they are motivated by something like a Fitbit than not move at all,” Muzic said.

Fitbit in motion

Office days, when Reynolds isn’t getting a lot of steps in, she makes an effort to increase her numbers.

“There’s been times when I have gone out to pick up some food for lunch, and I’ll just run up and down the stairs a couple times, just cause I’m like ‘Well, let’s just bump that up a few more active minutes,’” she said.

Sometimes, she even does some jumping jacks before bed to meet her 10,000 mark.

“I consider myself pretty active, but with my new job I sit at a desk all day, and with that I am not very active anymore,” Reynolds said. “It has really helped me be more honest with myself and track my activities.”

On a recent Sunday morning hike up to Lionshead Rock in Minturn, a four-mile loop, Reynolds started the hike at 11:25 a.m., already with 2,316 steps, 13 active minutes and 902 calories burned. Her numbers had been calculated from the moment that she woke from a sleep of seven hours and seven minutes — a stat that was also displayed on her Fitbit iPhone app (the bracelet also vibrates the wrist as a gentle wake-up call). Most of her first steps, active minutes and burned calories had been accumulated on her walk from her house over to the trailhead.

When the hike was complete at 2:02 p.m., Reynolds had taken a total of 13,394 steps, 83 active minutes and burned 1,707 calories in her day. According to her food intake tracker, that gave her 1,496 calories left to consume to help her stay on track with overall health and weight goals.

By 11:42 p.m., Reynolds’ app indicated that she had completed 19,143 steps, 99 active minutes and burned 2,788 calories. All the activity after the hike, she explained, was accomplished through some Sunday evening errands.

Not only could she see what she had achieved physically, but those in her Fitbit social circle could, too. The app allows wearers to join in with groups of locals, friends and family members to help motivate everyone to move a little bit more. That’s an element of Fitbit that Csincsak really enjoys.

“I am a very competitive human being, and I feel like when one of my buddies is getting close to my steps per day, I’m like, ‘I gotta get up and go mow the lawn or something,’” he said. “You can compete with others, you can cheer on your friends or taunt your friends. I think anybody who wants to be healthy and live a healthy lifestyle should own one — especially someone who is competitive.”

Support Local Journalism