Fitbit Charge 2 fitness band with a blank face because it stopped working. Black band and small chips around the face because it's been used.

The Dark side of Fitness bands

In the two years I’ve been wearing a Fitbit I’ve found it’s a great way to keep track of my activity. That’s what a fitness band is, right? Unfortunately, its attempts at encouraging movement are sometimes counterproductive.

Keep Moving

Thanks to the tracker logging every move I make, I learned to keep moving to make it happy. In the process I joined the “My Fitbit will be happy today” chorus.

When I’m doing laundry I keep moving rather than just standing there waiting for the last two minutes of the cycle to finish. Likewise the microwave: It doesn’t run any faster when you stand there watching it, so why not pace back and forth until the timer beeps?

At the gym I rest for 30 seconds between sets. I learned to get up during those rest periods between weight sets instead of sitting on the bench / machine. That way the Fitbit saw I was moving, and my pulse stayed higher too.

During conference calls when I’m mostly listening I get out of my chair and walk around. The tracker logs more steps, my pulse stays up a bit higher, and I’m not spending as much of my day sitting on my backside in front of computers.

COVID quarantines mean many workers and students have spent an exceptional amount of time sitting and staring at screens compared to the time before “everything changed.” This is not only mind-numbing; sitting is also unhealthy.

Performance Anxiety

To make sure it was “watching” I learned to carry things in my non-tracked hand. That way the “tracker hand” could swing freely and the maximum number of steps would be recorded.

Likewise I learned to push the grocery cart with one hand so the device can see the other hand swinging. If I walked fast enough and stayed long enough I could actually meet the Fitbit app’s 30 minute daily fitness goal.

These habits can be hard on the hand/wrist/arm that is not being measured. It can also lead to asymmetry when exercising, since one arm may be working more than the other. Then again, you might be able to use that to your benefit it one of your arms is already less-developed. (That’s an observation, not advice.)

Loading the washing machine and folding the finished load became a game to see how many motions could be performed by the monitored arm. Wiping things down likewise became an exercise in consistently using the same arm.

It was becoming clear that this wasn’t just a game anymore. I could end-up overworking one arm and leaving the other dangling at my side like I just donated blood.

Are Fitness Bands Really Worth It?

When I knocked it off the bathroom counter (my fitness tracker isn’t water-resistant enough to survive the shower) I had a momentary panic. The side of the unit was broken so the band wouldn’t stay on.

Though I had already been considering whether this tracker experiment was worth continuing, that moment forced the decision. I thought about whether I really still wanted one. Soul searching followed, debating whether to try and repair it, get another one, or just go back to a naked wrist.

While investigating whether it could be repaired, I discovered the watch case wasn’t broken after all. The chunk of plastic that broke off was actually part of the band rather than part of the case.

What Would You Do?

Given the choice between retiring it or giving it another go, I decided to get another band. Something else I learned in the mean time: It recorded my activity even when I had it in my pocket. It obviously couldn’t read my pulse, but it could tell when I was moving and estimate the number of steps. That’s a good trick.

Have you faced this choice of whether to stop wearing a watch or fitness band on your wrist? What did you decide?

2 thoughts on “The Dark side of Fitness bands”

  1. This is a good article. It motivated me to start wearing my Fitbit which has been idle almost a year since I retired. I wear it on my right arm, a very old habit from 50 years ago, and most things I carry are in my left hand so my tracking is better keeping it on the right. If I broke it I would replace it. I did once, because it went everywhere on me including on the tractor, in the brush, in the dirt. Worth it? Yea. I have slacked off without it. My bad. Thanks for the positive motivation, Steve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.