This week someone new came into my life. It’s a Fitbit Charge 5 and sometimes it’s giving me fits! Fits of anxiety as I struggle to understand how to operate it; fits of laughter when it awards me “badges” for less than extraordinary achievements.
Are you talking about that new thing on your wrist?
Yes, 9, I am. It’s sleek and black and tells me about all kinds of things, most of which I don’t need to know.
And what is this device intended for?
It’s a health and fitness tracker, Lily. I’m using it to calculate the minutes, distances and calories burned for my workouts.
The Fitbit isn’t my first fitness tracker. About two years ago an elite athlete friend handed down a Polar M200 that he’d replaced with something newer and fancier. I’d started working out a lot during COVID when there wasn’t much else to do with my spare time. It was interesting to find out, for example, how fast I walk (often in excess of four miles per hour!) and what my average and high heart rates are when I am thus engaged.
The Polar became my faithful workout companion, but I knew the day would come when the manufacturer no longer supported the M200 model. The built-in battery had a limited life and the company does not replace those, requiring you to buy a whole new unit. I knew we were in trouble when the Polar failed to switch from standard time to daylight savings time this spring. Three months later it refused to recharge. One recent morning its face was dark.
You mean it died?
In the universe of digital devices that is exactly what happened, 9. The Polar was an integral part of my life and it had quite a personality. I haven’t disposed of it yet, kind of feel like I should have a burial service for it instead of tossing it in the garbage can.
But fitness waits for no one and I had to move forward. Sue, one of my pool buddies at the YMCA, uses a Fitbit and highly recommended it. I ordered the Charge 5 which arrived this Monday.
As usual I was reticent to open the box, in keeping with my anti-Pandora tendencies to not want to know what’s inside but swimming was on my schedule the next day and curiosity won just this once. I’ve been swimming regularly since late July 2022 but had never used the Polar in the water because of a crack in the USB connector. Distance was easy to calculate, given the YMCA pool is 25 meters long, but I’d been estimating calories burned with a stand-alone online program. Surely having both these calculations performed by a clever digital device would be an improvement?
I choose to be joyful in reporting that my calculating accuracy is about ten percent superior to Fitbit Charge 5. It reported total distance short by five lengths. I might have doubted my mental tabulation but Fitbit claimed I’d swum 79 lengths- -not likely, as I would have stopped at the far end of the pool! Calories burned were about 25% less than what the online calculator came up with (with height, weight, distance and combination of strokes entered to the online calculator as variables).
So I’m taking Fitbit’s report with an ample grain of salt. One thing it does do, though, that I have no idea how to figure out on my own, is tell me how many minutes of my workouts are in “fat burn” and “cardio & peak” zones, and how many calories are burned per zone minutes (which, interestingly, comes very close to what I come up with using the online calculator). There’s plenty of disparaging commentary online discussing the inaccuracy of Fitbit calories burned, high for some activities and low for others.
But. . .
Uh-oh, here comes the weird part.
Right again, 9! I believe I mentioned badges earlier. Badges appear in a lot of apps, little encouragements meant to incentivize people who thrive on third-party affirmation. Sometimes I really appreciate a pat on the back for a job well done, but Fitbit hands out awards so frequently it’s like having an overly nurturing parent who overcompensates for their grumpy and remote “other half.”
“Other half,” as it happens, is relevant to this discussion. Imagine my surprise when I was awarded a Stuart Badge for walking 12,345 steps in one day! If you know me from ancient times (December 1978-June 1984) you’ve probably already fallen out of your chair laughing about an award with the same name as my then-spouse. Who knew there were awards for making it through your first marriage? If he, too, has a Fitbit has he earned a Susan Badge?
How many times have we been married again?
We’ll talk about it later, 9.
Yesterday, according to Fitbit, I walked 3.2 miles in 46 minutes, which calculates out to nearly 4.2 miles per hour. A recent study shows that this is about 33% faster than the average walking speed for women under 30. Women between 60 and 65 walk an average 2.7 miles per hour.
We do have long legs.
Yes, Lily, and it seems we know how to move them.
I love mashing up concepts. For example, I sometimes incorporate references to fairy tales in my Small-g City series. So naturally it came to me: What if there had been Fitbit when the pioneers were crossing the Oregon Trail?
My Charge 5 allows for 6 physical activities. It starts with defaults that include running and cycling, which I don’t do, so I’ve edited the list for things like “Yoga” and “Walk.” This started me thinking about what default activities a woman making the 2,000 mile trek from Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley might find on her imaginary time-traveling Fitbit. Here’s my preliminary list:
- Childbirth in a hailstorm
- Hand wash laundry for a family of 10
- Dig grave and bury spouse
- Nurse 8 children through dysentery
- Walk 20 miles without a drink of water
- Dig grave and bury new spouse
Digital devices. Performance metrics. Accurate measurements? Are we faster or slower than the thing strapped to our wrist says we are?
For most of us it does it really matter? And even if it does, I’m pretty sure staying physically active matters even more.
Having a good laugh now and again is important, too- -I’m still chuckling about my Stuart Badge.