Step to it

  • This was printed in July of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 109th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Activity trackers, like the Fitbit, are all the rage among active people and those who are beginning their journey toward a healthier lifestyle.

But is it worth it to fork out anywhere from $80 to $600 for a glorified pedometer?

Experts say yes — these gadgets motivate people to increase their activity and live healthier lifestyles. For that reason, I’m all for it.

These trackers, usually worn on the wrist like a watch, can tell the wearer how many steps they have taken that day, how many calories they have burned, how many hours they’ve slept, and sometimes more.

Back in the day of the simple pedometer, which only tracked steps and was usually clipped to the wearer’s waistband, a popular goal was to take 10,000 steps a day, the equivalent of about 5 miles.

My Garmin 920xt, a GPS watch, also tracks steps and sleep like the FitBit. My daily goal is set to 10,000 steps. On my run days, I complete this goal by 6 a.m. and then don’t think about the watch hardly at all for the remaining 16 or so hours in my day.

On my rest days, I struggle to walk 10,000 steps because I’m stuck in front of a computer most of the time.

Thankfully, my 920xt yells at me to get my butt up off of my chair.

No really, it does.

It beeps, vibrates, and “Move!” appears on the screen if I haven’t taken a step in about an hour.

“Okay, okay!” I say. Then I get up and walk down The Madera Tribune’s hallway to the break room, where I open the fridge and grab a snack.

I might be doing it wrong.

Hopefully my readers can get it right. Here is a look at popular activity trackers, along with their prices and brief pros and cons:

Fitbit Flex

Perhaps the most popular, it retails for $100 and monitors your steps and distance, calories burned, number of minutes that you are active, and how long and well you sleep. It syncs wirelessly to your phone, so that you can track your stats and progress day to day. It’s slim, comes in 10 colors, and now can even be dressed up with designer leather bands or stainless steel bands in gold, silver or brass.

Fitbit Surge

This $250 GPS watch that does everything the Flex does, plus includes a wrist-based heart rate monitor and GPS tracking that calculates distance, pace, elevation, and split times for runners and cyclists. Phone call and text message notifications can also be seen on the watch face.

Samsung Gear Fit

It costs $150, but only pairs with Samsung cell phones. All of the features of the Fitbit Flex are included, plus the watch has a touch screen that displays emails, texts and alerts so that you can stay informed while you work out. (I think that’s annoying, but perhaps doctors, nurses and such who work on-call would appreciate that feature.)

Garmin Vivofit 2

Like my Garmin, but with less bells and whistles for just $130. It pairs with the Garmin Connect community to compare your daily activity and sleep with friends. It also has the “Move bar” that tracks when you’re sedentary and reminds you to get up and walk around every hour or so during waking hours.

Jawbone UP2

Matching the Fitbit’s price of $100, the Jawbone tracks activity and sleep, and also provides food logging capabilities and suggests fitness plans through its app. These features could be helpful to those following a diet plan or a beginner who needs fitness coaching.

Misfit Flash

This is the least expensive at just $50, but you get what you pay for. It tracks steps and sleep, however just a halo of lights on the Flash’s face signal your progress toward your daily step goal. To see any actual numbers or analyze your information, you have to check the accompanying Misfit App.

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