Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Cut loose from the fitness shackle*

Yesterday, I lost my fitbit. After the first few minutes of searching, I realized it was a relief to be rid of it. I started Sunday with a virtuous run and synced the fitbit to my tablet when I got home (9,000 steps).  So I know it made it safely into the house. Then, poof, it disappeared as suddenly as if it had been vaporized.

In January, my employer gave out free fitbits to all staff, with the condition that by accepting one, you were then committed to participate in the "fitness challenge," which involved syncing your fitbit with the employee wellness website and receiving a $100 bonus if you logged at least 50 workouts or walked at least 5,000 steps a day by the completion of the challenge. The strange thing is, my fitbit disappeared the day after the challenge ended.

It had become my dark overlord.  The last thing I did at night is take it off, and the first thing I did when I woke up was clip it to my pajamas, so as not to miss those first few steps to the bathroom. Steps had become something of an obsession, to the point that the morning I forgot to put it on and didn't realize until after I'd taken Phoebe for her walk, I was almost tearful about it.

I wasn't thrilled about allowing some data collector to have access to my height, weight, age, and activity level; to cluck disapprovingly when noting that I'd lost 0.0 pounds over the course of the week.  But it was too late to back out.

Five thousand steps isn't that much--less than two and a half miles for someone my height.  I make the 5,000-step goal almost every day with no effort.  However, to satisfy the fitbit itself, rather than my employer, you need to take 10,000 steps a day, which is considerably more challenging if you work at a desk all day, although I somehow managed to walk 500 miles (!) in the four months that I wore the fitbit. No wonder I'm constantly wearing through the soles of my shoes.

In addition to the step count, the fitbit sets daily goals for you for calories burned and active minutes. According to my age and size, the fitbit thinks I should burn 2,143 calories each day.  I almost never meet that goal, and typically burn about 1900 calories per day. Which is useful information, I suppose, but I've heard that the fitbit has caused people to gain weight because it encourages you to consume more calories based on your step count. For a while, I logged what I ate into the fitbit, but it became a huge chore.

Not only did I feel like I was under surveillance I was frustrated by silly fitbit idiosyncrasies. For example, when I logged my forty-five minute barre class, the fitbit refused to add that time to my "active minutes" total. Barre class is hard and it's outrageous that the fitbit doesn't consider it to be legitimate exercise.  On the days that I bike to work, the fitbit doesn't record any steps, which is fair, I suppose, but it makes me look like a slacker. (Conversely, my colleague who rides to work on a scooter says his fitbit logs steps from it. Something to do with the way the scooter makes the arms vibrate.) Now that my fitbit is lost, it will forever be transmitting to my employer that I have stopped moving altogether. But that's fine with me. Exercise has been a part of my daily routine for decades. I don't need an intrusive device to keep me moving.

I will not be participating in next year's Get the Fatties Moving campaign and I am happy to return to a life where I am blissfully ignorant of the number of steps I take each day. What are your thoughts on fitness trackers and employers who track their employees' fitness? In my opinion, it's uncomfortably close to Big Brother.

*PS: I didn't coin the term "fitness shackle." A brilliant blogger I know invented it, but the blog post (indeed, the entire blog) where it first appeared has been taken down.

PPS: Late Sunday night, I spotted the fitbit, wedged between some bottles of shampoo. I didn't put it back on and I'm not wearing it today.

14 comments:

  1. I already feel bad enough about my weight and inactivity and I don't want to involve my employers in my personal misery for $100. For $1000 I might consider tossing out my remaining dignity. I can't believe you'd have to walk 5 miles in order to get up 10,000 steps! And it's outrageous that bike riding doesn't count.

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    1. "tossing out my remaining dignity"!! Great line :-)

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  2. I think fitness trackers are ridiculous - just one more fancy gadget to waste money on (esp when there are things they don't track, like bike riding. Yours is not the first complaint I've heard about that.) And employers tracking it does feel a bit like Big Brother.

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  3. I just use mine to count steps, not keep track of food, etc. it does help me be aware of when I am being particularly inactive (I am good at lying to myself). I tend not to focus on it on weekends, just to give myself a break. I guess it is like everything else, useful in moderation. I clip it to me pants leg for biking, which helps a little, but it still way undercounts.

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    1. I tried clipping mine to my hip instead of my bra while biking, and it did pick up a few steps, but not nearly enough for the effort I was expending.

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  4. I had a fitbit and I liked it. I lead a pretty sedentary life (my main daily activities are my desk job and driving kids around and sitting in meetings). I don't have built-in movement in my day like you do. Having the fitbit encouraged me to move around more. I was able to set it to give the plauditory buzz at a number a bit lower than 10,000 steps, because even on a day when I walk significantly, I am probably not going to come close to 10,000.

    It's ridiculous that the fitbit doesn't count your barre class, or biking to work! Maybe it would if you put it on your ankle???

    I am self-employed, so I did not have an employer other than myself to give my data to. I don't think I would do that for $100. It would have to be a LOT of money to get me to enter a program like the one you describe.

    But then my fitbit quit working. I was not inclined to spend any time getting a replacement. Now if I want to know how many steps I walk, I carry my phone.

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    1. I am lucky to have exercise built into my day. Sometimes at work, I will have to walk nearly two miles to get to meetings at the main hospital complex.

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  5. I can't imagine giving that information to an employer. It's bad enough to have my own husband hounding me about exercise and nutrition.

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  6. I hate that these "big brother" programs are creeping in to the workplace under the guise of "wellness programs". I don't want my daughter weighed at school, and I don't want my employer to know anything about my health.

    I wore a fitbit for a year, and I liked that it motivated me to move more. But like CHM and SC above, I don't have lots of activity built in to my day. After awhile, though, I found that I was consistently at 4000-5000 steps a day, mostly from teaching. I was also swimming at the time, and I tried logging that for a while, but it seemed sort of worthless. Eventually I wanted to wear a bracelet and took the fitbit off. I just never put it back on again :-)

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    1. My employer has enthusiastically embraced "wellness" for staff. This fitbit program is only the tip of the iceberg.

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  7. I gave D one for Christmas and he LOVES it. But he's competitive and all that. I will not wear one. I have no desire to be tracked (as you say) and I suspect I get plenty of exercise on a daily basis without feeling that pressure to hit certain marks. My students have told me hilarious stories of how their parents racked up steps on their fitbits, though. Including one dad who attached his to a power drill and had a beer while the drill vibrated away. Another put the fitbit on the dog's ankle and played fetch with it.
    Your sensibilities on this matter is just like mine. That pleases me.

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  8. I had one of the first generation Fitbits and enthusiastically embraced it for a while. I even logged what I ate. Once I figured out what I needed to be doing, however, I lost interest. Also, as you noted, Fitbits don't log all activities, like biking or swimming, which I found irritating. On the other hand, it's easy enough to fake out a Fitbit. To wit: I had mine one once while visiting my grandmother. We both sat in rocking chairs and rocked vigorously for a couple of hours while we talked. My Fitbit logged all that rocking and put me down for a few miles.

    More recently, I got one of those Fitbits through work too and since I walk so much, I was able to hit my step goal pretty quickly. Two days later, the battery started to die, so I tossed it in a drawer and forgot about it. Less than a week after my husband hit his goal, I accidentally washed his Fitbit with the laundry, which killed it pretty thoroughly.

    As for the larger work community and how the Fitbit challenge fared, I think it was successful for some people, but a bust for others. One woman I used to work with would wave her arm around all day long to log her necessary steps. She otherwise made no effort to increase her exercise. She also continued to eat crappy food and made no dietary changes that might have benefited her.

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