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  • Sheri Colberg, PhD

To Fitbit or Not to Fitbit?

Fitbit models

Having recently just tried a Fitbit physical activity tracking device (the Charge HR one) for the first time, I have noticed that in this post-Thanksgiving holiday sales time, everyone is selling them! But they are far from inexpensive. The American Diabetes Association also recently was involved in a FitForGood promotion that Fitbit ran that allowed them and two other nonprofit organizations to earn some extra money. Racking up extra steps for the ADA certainly motivated me and my family members to be more active—for a few days at least!

What you may be wondering is, do you need a Fitbit? What if you can’t afford one? Are you then doomed to fail at meeting your physical activity goals, including taking more daily steps?

No physical activity device is the only determining factor in becoming and staying more physically active. Most people struggle with sticking with an exercise program long term, not just getting started on it. Simply taking more steps on a given day is not that difficult to do—with a bit of motivation—but doing it every day for the rest of your lifetime is a different story. To stick with it, you have to change your behavior so that being more active becomes a habit.

So, what can a Fitbit device do for you? Unlike the more traditional pedometers (step counters), the Fitbit in particular can measure multiple factors and allow you to track your data on a mobile device or a computer, which may be motivating since you can see the data in real time if you sync it with your device/computer. Using a GPS-aided accelerometer and heart rate monitor, the Fitbit Charge HR counts steps, distance covered, heart rate (hence the “HR” part), exercise intensity, moderate, and vigorous), calories burned, and flights of steps. You can also use the online dashboard to set goals, track your weight, monitor calorie intake, and see your sleep patterns. Plus you can invite anyone to engage in daily step challenges.

A recent research study on a less advanced Fitbit device found that older overweight or obese women adhere very well to wearing and using the tracker and that it is a promising tool for continuous monitoring of their physical activity adherence, at least over 16 weeks (1). If a Fitbit can help you establish your physical activity habit, it may be well worth the price. if you don’t need all the bells and whistles to stay motivated, try a cheaper model ( Your health will thank you for being more active, regardless of how you go about doing it!

Reference: (1) Cadmus-Bertram L, Marcus BH, Patterson RE, et al. Use of the Fitbit to measure adherence to a physical activity intervention among overweight or obese, postmenopausal women: Self-monitoring trajectory during 16 weeks. JMIR mHealth uHealth 2015;3(4):e96 (

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