Starting to think about getting more active in the New Year? Thinking a Fitbit might help give you a boost? Read on to find out, if an activity tracker will help you achieve your fitness goals, and if so, which is the right one for you?

What is a Fitbit?

Fitness trackers are getting more and more common and Fitbit is probably the most popular at the moment. OK, so in the interest of being fully open and honest I should admit straight away: I love my Fitbit.  It’s probably the only gadget that I’ve used regularly for any length of time (with the possible exception of my iPhone). So other fitness and activity tracking devices are available, but I am so in love with my Fitbit I have never bothered to check them out!

So what is a Fitbit and what does it do?  Well as a vey basic summary; its a fancy pedometer that records more than just steps. You can measure how many minutes you have been active, flights of stairs climbed, and some models will monitor your sleep. Which is interesting to review if you often find yourself tired but don’t know why.  The great thing about a Fitbit s how it feeds back all that data to you. It isn’t loads of complicated graphs, it’s very visual and simple to understand how you are doing.  Your Fitbit can be linked to an app (both iOS and Android) and/ or your computer through a web based dashboard.

Fitbit dashboard

The Fitbit dashboard on the computer

 

Having a Fitbit also lets you link up to a community of other Fitbit users, and you can set challenges with your friends. I have been known to go out for a run or volunteer to go the shop at 10pm on a Friday night because I’m lagging behind in a particularly competitive challenge!  You might have heard that the general guideline that we should all be doing 10,000 steps a day, but your Fitbit let you personalise your targets, so you can make it as difficult (or easy!) as you like.

Fitbit AppOne of my favourite things about the Fitbit is that it gives you little badges for achieving goals. Things like most steps or floors in a day or lifetime miles which it equates to “real life” measures. For example my last badges were for getting to 4132 lifetime miles, which is apparently the length of the Nile! And I got one after climbing 20,000 floors, which is the height of a Shooting Star!

Finally, you can link it to other apps and share information,  for instance, you can link it to Runkeeper and any activities you log will automatically transfer over into the Fitbit app. Or you can link it to My Fitness Pal and if you track your food on there it will also appear in the Fitbit app.

Why I love my Fitbit

I got my first Fitbit in April 2012,  they’d only been out in the UK a few months then and there was only one version available – the Fitbit Ultra, it was a rather clunky looking clip on pedometer, but from the moment I got it I was obsessed. I would spend hours marching round the house or up and down the road outside to get to my target each day. Over time my competiveness has died off a bit but there is no denying my Fitbit has made me more active. Since buying a Fitbit I’ve taken up running, and I regularly walk when I would have taken the car before.

When I first got my Fitbit I would spend a good hour every night examining my stats on the dashboard, nosing around on the bulletin boards and getting into bizarre online conversations with mad Americans who were even more obsessed than me.  I’ve made some good friends through Fitbit Facebook groups too. Real life, meet-up-and-eat-cake-together friends as well; not just online “like monkeys” as David calls them.

David and I have also taken up hill walking. It is a nice way for us to spend time together. Just don’t ever ask him about the time I forced him to retrace our steps 3 miles back across a very overgrown Welsh hillside when I realised I’d lost my Fitbit. We did, amazingly, find it – weirdly hanging on a bracken branch about 5 foot in the air.

Perhaps most impressively, I credit the Fitbit with a sizeable chunk of the recovery I made from a badly broken leg. I slipped on the stairs and ended up with a huge, unwieldy frame pinned through my leg! The hospital told me the more I walked on it, the faster and stronger the bone would heal. So I set myself mini targets and used my Fitbit to monitor my progress. My first target was just 50 steps the first day out of hospital, then 75, then 100.  The first day I hit 10,000 steps with the frame on my leg I was so happy I cried, and I drank a bottle of prosecco to celebrate (looking back, the prosecco may have contributed to the crying). I ended up having the frame removed 4 weeks early and I’m pretty certain I would never have achieved that without the Fitbit to keep me on track and show me how I was doing each day.

Fitbit reviews

So now you know why I love my Fitbit, you might even be thinking you fancy one to. It’s all changed a bit from the days of my first clunky old Ultra, so let me give you the lowdown on the various different versions and what they do.

Fitbit Zip

This is the entry level Fitbit.

  • Clip on
  • Costs about £50
  • Measures: steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes (doesn’t measure flights of stairs).
  • No display

As with all Fitbits, it syncs wirelessly with your smartphone and you can see all your info on the Fitbit app.  I think the best thing about the Zip is the fact that it takes a replaceable watch battery (lasts about 6 months) so doesn’t need to be regularly charged up like other models

 Fitbit One

This is the direct replacement for the Ultra. It is the one I moved to after my Ultra had an unfortunate encounter with the washing machine.

  • Clip on
  • Costs about £70
  • Measures; steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, flights of stairs climbed and sleeping pattern.
  • Time display

You monitor your sleep patterns by wearing it tucked in a little fabric wristband overnight.  It claims to have a “silent” alarm that you can set via the app, but I must be a heavy sleeper as it never successfully woke me up. Battery life is about 7-10 days and you recharge via a USB.

Word of warning: the One will occasionally flash little encouraging messages up on its display screen, things like “Go for it”, “You rock” and “I think you’re great!” which is lovely, but not if you’re wearing it clipped to your bra, and you’re wearing a fairly thin shirt, and you’re in a meeting with your boss. It can be awkward. You have been warned….

Fitbit Flex

This is probably the most popular Fitbit model.

  • Wristband
  • Costs about £80
  • Measures: steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes (doesn’t measure flights of stairs).
  • Display- a row of little LED lights shows approximate steps covered, but doesn’t show time.

This was the first wristband tracker that Fitbit launched. At first there was a fair bit of noise from the Fitbit community about how it could possibly track accurately (surely every time you moved your hand you’d get credited with a step?). Now I don’t know how they’ve done it but down to some jiggery pokery with how it measures forward movement combined with upwards movement it’s actually pretty accurate.

It shows your progress against your step target via a row of 5 LED lights on the wristband, that’s why I don’t like it – it’s the only Fitbit where you can’t see your actual steps done on the tracker. You can easily sync with your phone and see it on the app though. It has the sleep tracker/silent alarm and also has interchangeable wristbands so you can match your Fitbit to your outfit (there are loads of cheap wristbands on EBay and Amazon).  Battery life for the Flex is about 4-5 days and it recharges via USB.

Charge/Charge HR

This is where Fitbits starting getting a bit fancy,

  • Wristband
  • Charge costs about £100 and the Charge HR about £120.
  • Both measure steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and floors climbed, sleeping pattern and the Charge HR measures your heart rate!
  • Both also show the time and have the infamous silent alarm.

If your phone rings within syncing distance (about 15m) it will also display the caller id on your Fitbit but you can’t answer/talk via your Fitbit.  The Charge HR tracks your heart rate 24hrs a day (well, if you’re wearing it anyway) no need for a chest strap, it takes it all from your wrist.  Battery life is 5-7 days for the Charge and 4-5 days for the Charge HR and you recharge via USB.

Fitbit Surge

This is the daddy of them all. I’m not quite sure what the Surge doesn’t do to be honest.

  • Wristband
  • Costs about £200
  • Measure steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and floors climbed, sleeping pattern, heart rate! It also has full GPS tracking so you can review distance, pace, elevation.
  • It displays the time, has the infamous silent alarm, and you can read texts on it!

The surge has multi exercise tracking so you can record running, cycling etc direct from the tracker (rather than through the app), you can see caller ID when someone rings and you can read texts on it (but you can’t reply to them). You can control your music (from your phone) through it. Battery life is 4-5 days and recharging is via usb.

The Charge HR and Srge show you your heart rate peaks during the day

The Charge HR and Srge show you your heart rate peaks during the day

 Which one to buy?

I currently have a Surge and while I love it (especially the HR monitoring) I probably wouldn’t buy another one. It’s quite chunky on my wrist and I don’t use half the functionality available.  I never run without my phone so don’t need the GPS element of the Surge, and while I occasionally read a text on it I could easily live without that.

If you want something simple and prefer a clip on tracker to a wristband go for the One.  If you prefer a wristband, then I think the additional functions of the Charge make it better value than the Flex. If like me you’re a little bit geeky and like looking at things like how high your heart rate gets when an evil PT makes you do sprint intervals on the rower (thanks Jennie) then go for the Charge HR.

The prices I’ve quoted here are Fitbit’s RRPs – if you hunt around you can get all of them cheaper than this, I bought my Mum a brand new Charge HR on Amazon a few weeks ago for £69.  However, do be careful to buy from an authorised retailer. Fitbit customer services are really good at resolving any issues, providing it has been purchased from authorised seller. You can find them cheaper through some Amazon or Ebay stores, but if there is a problem you might have to try resolve it with the seller rather than Fitbit.

Whichever one you go for and however much you pay – prepare to get obsessed….

 

Maria x

Maria, is one of the dedicated set U free crew, trying to lose weight and get fitter without resorting to fad diets! Make sure to read her story, and check out some of the other blogs you might like:

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