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Bits of Fitness

Bits of Fitness: Fitness trackers help adults keep tabs on their health-related idiosyncrasies

Fitness trackers help some students and faculty track their campus routes and nights out in a more conscientious way.

Tina Young went to The C.I. with a group of friends and ended up dancing the night away in a skirt, a red shawl and a black bracelet around her wrist. 

The bracelet tracked Young’s high levels of activity throughout the night and how many calories she burned en route. It tracked the exact number of hops she took while dancing to Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” and ultimately showed that the junior studying screenwriting and producing took a total of about 3,300 steps and burned nearly 450 calories within the hour and a half she was at the bar. 

“ ‘Come on Eileen’ came on and I went wild,” Young, who was given a Fitbit from The Post to track her activity for one day, said. “Our cans of beer were literally splashing out because we were dancing so hard. It was getting all over everyone else.” 

The song is a little more than four minutes long, and based on Young’s data, she danced for the entirety of the song — her peak of activity that night. 

The information, extraneous or not, is collected through a wearable device called a Fitbit, and the user can decide if the data recorded throughout the day is useful for keeping track of his or her movements. 

When Young found out how many steps she took throughout her night, she said it was “wild” how easy the information could be tracked. 

Depending on the type of Fitbit, wearers can see their heart rate, step count, stair count, sleep cycle, diet and water intake, which are all organized and synced to their online Fitbit profile on their computer or smartphone. 

“I totally see why people are interested in tracking physical activity,” Young said. “I think it’s really cool.”

With the rise in wearable technology and its ability to store personal data, people of all ages can go on their campus treks with a conscientious attitude and become a part of a digital wave of fitness. 

Keeping up with the numbers

Though Young had about 3,300 steps in a short amount of time, it was only a small contribution to her total 13,500 for that entire day. 

Sophomore Annie Weber said when she got her Fitbit Flex last December, she was fully sold on the idea of being in sync with her body 24/7 and aimed for the average 10,000 steps a day. 

“My Fitbit changed the way... I eat and sleep,” Weber said. “It’s been an indicator for how much sleep I need to function or how much sleep is too much for me. I’ve learned it’s a lot better (for me) to snack throughout the day than to eat huge meals.” 

Weber, who is studying sport management, uses her Flex every day in every way possible: step count, sleep tracking, food intake and monitoring calories burned during her workouts. 

Some might be quick to judge how she tracks her food intake and label it as “obsessive,” Weber said. But she said she utilizes the data in a mentally healthy way. 

“It’s a huge strength and power to know your body,” she said. “If I forget to log food, I know now how much I eat and how many calories I’m eating. It’s kind of cool to look at something ...  in rough estimates. I definitely think I could get really anal if I got too intense with it though.” 

John Kenney, a personal trainer at Ping Center, said those who own Fitbits may have a tendency to go overboard with the tracking. He said people can put their step count and calorie intake in the forefront of their routine instead of understanding the data as only a small component of their health. 

“One person I know loves to track his macronutrients — so like carbs, fat, proteins. He’s habitually attached to that,” Kenney, a sophomore studying exercise physiology, said. “Sometimes it’s better to move away from that because it makes you so attached to how you eat. You forget to enjoy yourself when it comes to food.” 

However, when working out or training, Kenney said he sees how Fitbits could be appealing for tracking progress and maintaining motivation. 

Kenney used the example of people training for a marathon. They could use a Fitbit to track their heart rate, as opposed to taking an artery pulse, which can be “hard to do while you’re exercising.” 

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Even for someone who does not exercise every day, Kenney said people can bene t from tracking their steps around campus even if they don’t want to pay the money for a Fitbit. 

“You can easily get (a pedometer) or use an app on your smartphone, and it’s not going to be as accurate, but it’s going to give you a rough estimate of where you are step-wise,” he said. “Fitbits help people stay focused, and it helps them be motivated as well. If someone has the technology to see those improvements, it’s going to keep you focused.” 

Staying young

Some days when Yeong-Hyun Kim, an associate professor of geography, is not satisfied with her total number of steps per day, she will take her 18-year-old Australian Terrier out for a walk, which sometimes accounts for 3,000 steps alone. 

Kim had a Fitbit Flex but decided to upgrade to a Charge, which shows the number of steps on a digital screen. 

“When you see 4,000 steps to 3,000 steps, you know you didn’t do much,” she said. “It’s good to see proof in numbers for older people because they consciously want to feel healthier.” 

Kim said some of her colleagues who own Fitbits have rerouted their walks around campus to optimize their stair and step count. Because of fitness trackers, she said it’s interesting how people are consciously thinking about how they can in get more steps. 

Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian for the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, wakes up every day at 4:53 a.m., does her morning workout and walks about a mile to work. Because of her high activity already, Intrator said she has not seen a drastic change in her behavior because of her Fitbit. 

Intrator also has a Fitbit Charge and within the year she has had it, she upped her goal from 10,000 steps a day to 15,000. 

“I’m 40, and I started signing up for 5ks and 10ks and triathlons to try and see what I can do and challenge myself a little bit,” she said. “It makes it more realistic or easier to visualize.” 

Both Intrator and Kim received discounts on their Fitbits because of the Healthy Ohio program Wellworks offers for faculty. Faculty members and their spouses or partners must follow a three-step process of a doing a health screening, filling out a wellness profile and taking part in a coaching session. Those who complete the process receive a $120 discount on their health insurance premium. In fall 2014, as an incentive to join, Healthy Ohio started offering free Fitbit Zips, valued at $60, or a discount on a more expensive Fitbit. 

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Selena Baker, a nutrition counselor for Wellworks, said about 1,500 faculty members are in Healthy Ohio and about 700 have Fitbits who are automatically grouped into a community called fitOhio. 

“(Through fitOhio) we do about three or four challenges each year,” Baker said. “We see more activity in the users based on these. We do percentage improvement and raffles.”

Baker said the average for active Fitbit users in fitOhio is fewer than 10,000 steps a day, but those who are on their feet all day, like those in facilities management, are getting 20,000 to 30,000 steps. Those who have desk jobs or health problems don’t have as high of scores. 

Socially integrated

Because of how fitness trackers have become so integrated into one’s daily routine, being in sync with one’s data has become the norm. 

Sarah Murray, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied fitness trackers, said there has been pressure on technology companies to effectively incorporate trackers into everyday life without it being a distraction. 

“Some of (Fitbit’s) ads don’t even show the person’s wrist where the Fitbit is on because it’s all about getting the wearable to be not socially stigmatized,” Murray said. “The more we can get wearables to that point where it’s cultural common sense, the more they’ll do better in a consumer market.”

Murray said the way Fitbits do not interfere with “human interpersonal engagement” is a reason why products such as Google Glass did not effectively take off as well as Google might have wanted. 

“It’s a very jarring experience to be walking down the street and someone with Google Glasses is gazing off into the distance like a zombie,” she said. “It looks like they have dead eyes.” 

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Fitbit users can add friends and compare steps with each other, but Baker said people shouldn’t underestimate the power of untracked fitness. 

“Sometimes we underestimate the power of just going out and taking a walk or a hike or a bike ride,” Baker said. “Even if you don’t get the numbers from it, wellness is more than just the numbers. It’s more than the number on the scale. It’s more than the number of steps. Remember how it makes you feel mentally and emotionally and physically, too.” 


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