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copyright © 2019 Amy Sterling Casil

Fitbit: Will it Improve Health?

Especially over age 50: If I’m any judge, Fitbit and other wearables can significantly improve health … “Fitty is Great for Over-50”

I got my Fitbit Charge 3 for Christmas and started wearing it December 25. Since that time I’ve walked over 500 miles and 1.2 million steps, gone up and down over 2,500 floors of stairs, and walked over 20,000 steps in a day.

I aim for Fitbit’s goal of 10,000 steps a day. If I can hit 5 miles, I want to: for me, 11,000 to 12,000 steps works out to five miles.

You have to have been living under a rock to be unaware that the majority of people in the U.S. walk less than two miles a day, amounting to only 3,000 to 4,000 steps on average.

So now, almost 6 months later, has “Fitty” been worth it?

For me? Absolutely.

For those who haven’t gotten there yet, a bunch of dreadful things happen once you get older, from horrid age spots and precancerous lesions to sagging body parts, alarming, irritating, and inexplicable fat deposits in undesirable areas, bizarre heart palpitations, sleep disturbances, indigestion, creaking joints … I could go on …

It’s all bad. Some of the effects of aging are unavoidable. But not all.

Here’s where “Fitty” comes in.

Six months after “Fitty” joined my life, I’ve improved my resting heart rate back to where it was in my 20s. Just so you know why I’m seldom curated on @Medium … I’m 57. I’m one of those lucky people at the tail end of the Baby Boom — all of the negatives and suffering and none of the advantages. You creeps born in the 40s? I hope you get gout from your toxic fatty foods! I hope you get a million skin cancers from your ozone-killing aerosol cans!! [sorry — back to regular programming] …

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Here’s where I started out (low 70s) — the higher rate indicates I was getting sick — more on that later. Even when I started Fitbit said I was in the “Very Good” range for women my age.
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Here’s where I am right now — I’ve been under 60 for my resting heart rate for a week now.

I did the most important thing for my health that I’ll ever do back in 2014 when I quit smoking — but I did gain the exact average amount of weight that quitters do within a fairly short time: 18 pounds.

Ugh.

Lugging that up and down hiking trails isn’t fun.

So it’s been five years. I breathe great: few asthma symptoms, many fewer allergy symptoms, and no more two- and three-month long coughs.

But even though I’m active as a teacher and have kept up hiking, writing days aren’t active. I didn’t think it was good to sit on my butt for hours every day, but before “Fitty” I didn’t realize how dangerous it could be to sit for long periods.

My “heart palpitations” terrified me even though my blood pressure and pulse rate was normal. Apparently feeling like your heart is racing, aka “palpitations,” is a normal symptom of menopause, and related to hormonal changes. “Fitty” showed me my heart rate was within a normal range even if it felt like I was having “heart palpitations.”

Last year I did some serious damage to my cardiovascular health (or thought that I did) when I quit going to the gym and took a contract job which meant I’d be sitting even more hours staring at a screen. I went from feeling fit to feeling tired, listless, and for me? Very out of shape.

Combined with normal post-menopausal changes? I was ready for a change.

And for me? “Fitty” made it easy.

When I first started using the Fitbit, I was conscientiously walking as much as possible. I discovered that on normal writing days, I’d have to split up my walks into two sessions. Five miles is about 1.5 hours of walking for me, so I discovered all the walking paths and ways near my home. Over time, I slacked off — something several studies have determined is a feature of fitness trackers for many people.

After a few weeks, I realized that Fitbit’s hourly reminders to “move” were, though irritating, helpful.

And I learned something powerful about health, fitness and movement that I think everybody, from workout enthusiasts to the most sedentary guy in the world needs to know:

Moving moderately, more frequently, produces more health benefits than hitting the gym and working out strenuously every day.

Fitbit and other fitness trackers will prompt you to get up and move every hour while you’re doing sedentary work (or just lounging around). The standard Fitbit hourly step goal is 250 steps an hour.

When my daughter saw me doing this when I first got “Fitty,” she jeered and said just walking around or moving my arms “wouldn’t do anything.”

After six months, “doing what Fitty says” has produced more measurable improvement than any of my other workout plans including going to the gym at least six days, and usually seven days a week for 18 to 24 months.

I have improved my cardio fitness from “good” to “excellent,” reduced my resting heart rate by over 10 beats a minute, improved my blood pressure, lost seven pounds, and have managed to cope with a high level of stress.

It really is that simple. Moving a modest amount every hour throughout the day is better than hitting the gym before or after work — at least it seems to be for people in my age range.

It turns out that some employers are paying their employees to exercise while they’re on the clock at work.

“Fitty” has also helped me with my sleep and put my mind at ease about having sleep apnea, premature Alzheimer’s, and many other feared maladies. Although I don’t get enough sleep, my sleep patterns are normal and Fitbit shows me benchmarks for women in my age range. I’ve even begun to identify ways I can improve my sleep: for example, I have better quality sleep, including more deep and REM sleep not only on days when I drink less coffee but also on days when I have more physical activity and steps.

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As to food and nutrition, Fitbit uses a system similar to MyFitnessPal and other calculators, giving you calorie counts and macronutrients for the day as long as you log your food. I’ve been curious about Fitbit’s accuracy in calories expended under normal circumstances and during various exercise and workout periods. The device isn’t perfect, but overall, I think it does a good job.

Which brings me to the final piece of the puzzle. One of my coworkers got an exercise bike desk and I was so fascinated by it that I started researching them online and I bought one two and a half weeks ago.

“Fitty’s” automatic exercise function doesn’t do a very good job of capturing riding a stationary bike, whether it’s at the gym or an exercise desk bike.

But “Fitty” does do an amazing job of capturing heart rate at all times. This includes using the exercise bike for 10–12 hours a day every day. It also includes getting up and moving around throughout the day.

So the other day I looked down at “Fitty” and saw my heart rate was 48.

Either I was dying, I thought, or I was getting a lot more fit.

One other tip? A lot of Fitbit users have noticed that if their resting heart rate rises, they may be getting sick. This has been true for me. I’ve had two different flu episodes since I’ve gotten the Fitbit. Both times my resting heart rate rose by two to four beats per minute about two to three days before showing other symptoms of illness.

We have to do everything we can to stay well. Even though I have Kaiser Permanente and know I’ll have care if I should suffer a catastrophic or more chronic illness, I want to have quality of life.

As we grow older, our bodies change and are less willing to cooperate with thoughtless abuse and poor treatment. “Fitty” helps me tremendously and the results are clear: it really does help to improve fitness and well-being.

Even more, fitness trackers help us to learn how our own bodies work. And that is well worth the price of a high-tech wearable and even the aggravation of hourly reminders to “get up and move!”

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