Tips and techniques to help those who want to be more technologically savvy but may need a little more hand holding.

Technology Can Lead to Better Health

Lisa Niday - Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the surface this title might sound like an oxymoron considering many are of the opinion that technology in our lives leads to more stress. I would contend it's how you use the technology that determines whether it is a tool or it leads to stress. I recently purchased a Fitbit Flex for a birthday present to myself. A good friend of mine had tried the Fitbit and the Jawbone Up and I was in the market to purchase a tracker so I benefitted from his testing and then bought a Fitbit Flex. He had the Fitbit and put it in his pocket, although he indicated he had lost a couple and liked his Jawbone because you wore it on your wrist. I waited for the Fitbit Flex which puts the Fitbit into a wrist bracelet to get the best of both worlds in my opinion.

What is it?

It's a tracker you wear that records your steps, distance, active minutes and sleep. Let me say for a number of years, I used an app to track my steps, but it constantly drained my phone battery and I had to remember to turn it on/off if I didn't want the battery drain. Then there was the inadvertent, forgot to turn it off and it talks to you to get active moment (kind of embarrassing in front of clients). I knew there had to be a better way.

photo of Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex shown in slate blue band.

I am sold on this. You just charge it and the battery life goes about 5-7 days depending on how many times you sync it. It charges in under 3 hours and I just choose an inactive time (like when I'm working on my computer to charge it). The charger is small and USB. It syncs wirelessly through bluetooth. This means you can sync it through your computer (it comes with a device to plug into your usb port and then you can sync to fitbit.com). 

Why do you need one?

For me I have been trying to lose weight and have found journaling my food through the LoseIt app to be a real aid in watching my calorie intake and the type of nutrients I eat. I had used a pedometer on my phone but found it was not really not as accurate and was really draining my phone battery. Of the two tenants of losing weight, knowing what you eat and then knowing what you are burning, I decided to invest into knowing what I was burning. An extra benefit of the FitBit is it syncs into my LoseIt App to record my calorie burn. 

One other helpful thing is I can set goals for steps, active time, distance and calorie burn. It will calculate my calorie burn from the food intake it gets from LoseIt to tell me whether I'm burning calories or just maintaining. The bottom line is it helps me visually see my activity so I can look at it in the context of my eating and maybe figure out why I'm not losing weight (even though we walked 7.5 miles that day, oh that might have been the desert too).

screen shot of Losit App with Fitbit adjustment shown

Screenshot of LoseIt App with Fitbit adjustment shown.

Secondly it also gives you a glimpse into your sleep patterns. Many doctors believe how many hours you sleep can also affect your bodies ability to lose weight. For some it's just the idea of feeling tired and the Fitbit lets you know how many hours of sleep you get as well as the number of times you are restless during your sleep.

screenshot of Fitbit Sleep

Expanded view of Fitbit Sleep on the computer.

You can add in other things, like actual activities in the log and it will let you have favorites as well. Favorites cuts down on the data entry, if you repeat many of the same activities. You can add your water intake, journal your blood pressure and glucose settings, as well.

Syncing

If I sync to the computer, I get a large beautiful interface where I can see progress tiles in a number of areas, but I can dive down deeper and get much more information. The dashboard (seen below) is just a glimpse into my day's progress. Once I click on the tile, I get a much more detailed look of what made up today's total (see below) and then the additional arrow takes me to the screen where I can get information over time (shown above in the sleep screen).

screenshot of Fitbit dashboard on the computer

Screenshot of the Fitbit dashboard on the computer. It gives you an overall glimpse of your progress in all your tracked areas for the day.

In addition, you can download the Fitbit App for your iPhone, iPad or Android device and it connects through blue tooth and can give you your dashboard it a mobile format. Most of the time I use the app but when I want more detail I go to the computer.

screenshot of Fitbit expanded view

Screenshot of Fitbit from the computer once I have clicked on a tile, it gives me this expanded view of the selected tile. By depressing the arrow button I can get more information over time, see the sleep image in the section prior.

Ease of Use

You just charge it and wear. You can sync to see your progress or you can tap and lights will let you know how close to your goal you are by the number of lights that illuminate. For example there are 4 lights (shown in the first image of the Fitbit Flex), so if you are halfway to your goal, two lights will illuminate.

To tell it you're going to sleep you tap repeatedly around the black area on the band and it goes to a "sleep" mode. To take it out of sleep mode in the morning you repeat the steps. It vibrates to let you know it has gone in or out of sleep mode and when you have reached your daily goal.

You can shower with it and I have gone through airport security wearing it. Since it's rubber it cleans well and now they have some different colored bands you can purchase if you don't like being stuck in the fashion slate blue or black band.

Summary

Overall I give it high marks for ease of use and it helps me get to my weight and fitness goals so from a usability or health benefit I would rank it high as well. I know that both Nike and Jawbone make similar devices, each has various ways of syncing and are pretty similarly priced. Mine was $99. One thing to consider is if you use other apps for food tracking, does the device you are interested in purchasing sync with your app. For me this was my tipping point for the Fitbit Flex.



 
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