Do Fitbit Wristbands Work?

photo 2I am currently recovering from a left hip arthroscopy, with a left shoulder arthroscopy looming up, so I have been trying to find ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite not being able to exercise as I have been previously used to. I have gone from doing Strongman training, Olympic lifting, kettlebell training and running, to bodybuilding training and static cycling (for the hip), so my primary concern at the moment is whether I’m exercising enough and maintaining a balanced enough diet to allow me to still keep losing body fat while maintaining muscle mass.

dashboardWhen I heard about Fitbit I was intrigued as it appealed to the busier side of me – I liked the idea of everything being done automatically over wifi, therefore requiring little effort on my part. Like most people these days, I have very little time for anything that falls outside of routine and what I’ve planned for during the day, so Fitbit sounded like quite a convenient way for me to be able to monitor my exercise, steps walked, food/water intake and sleep for the day, all in one place, and mostly automatically. I looked into it and decided to buy the Flex wristband and Aria scales.


photo 1The Aria scales were fairly easy to set-up but I had to wait a few hours for the wristband battery to charge before setting up my account fully. While Fitbit does have their own programme to monitor food, there is the option of synching it with myfitnesspal (among others), which I have been using for years and have all my meals and frequent foods saved in. Synching the two was not as straightforward as claimed by the online instructions and I needed to link/unlink the accounts multiple times before the data started to flow through.

Monitoring sleep

5h29 sleepOne of the major appeals for wanting to use Fitbit was because it is able to monitor sleep (as well as it can, for what it is). Since starting my working life I’ve been a really poor sleeper and I wanted to know just how much sleep I am getting each night. Sleep is extremely important for muscle mass growth and it affects my performance in the gym. While I can get by in the office by having coffee, my body needs the physical and mental rest for me to be able to reach my goals, especially as I am always on the go and never stop. The body and mind need the 8 hour break overnight.

There are 2 settings for sleep – normal and sensitive. The normal setting only counts you as being restless when you physically turn over in bed. I used that setting for the first night and apparently I had 6h48m sleep. Seeing as I woke up feeling like death, I gathered the setting was too kind to me, so I have been using the sensitive setting since (which counts most movements as being restless) and I believe it is painting a more accurate picture.

3h32 sleepOver the past 14 days I have had between 3h32m – 5h29m sleep a night (taking me around 45-60 minutes to fall asleep), which is not enough for there not to be added stress on the body. I have a very demanding job, I’m studying sports nutrition on the side and I also ask a lot of my body in the gym. I’m a busy person. I have to resort to caffeine to compensate for my lack of sleep. 1 cup of coffee can raise cortisol levels for up to 2 days. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in the body in response to stress. If there are elevated levels of cortisol in the body for an extensive amount of time it can lead to weight gain, lack of quality sleep, cravings, headaches, chronic fatigue, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to a decrease in protein synthesis, which, for someone trying to put on (or at least maintain) muscle mass, is destructive. So while I know all of this, I still normally need 3 cups of coffee and pre-workout all before 12pm to be alert and “energised” enough for my lunchtime lifting session.

Changes to lifestyle

weightAs a result of seeing how poor my sleep patterns are, I have been making some changes to my caffeine intake during the day. As my workouts are not as intense as they were pre-op (except with my trainer) I’m no longer having my pre-workout drink and I am having only 2 cups of coffee. I’ve switched to jasmine tea after 12pm (so nothing with caffeine). I’ve also started to read paper books again in bed as opposed to watching/reading something on my tablet. My tablet is not allowed to cross the threshold into my bedroom! The bright screen of a tablet suppresses the creation of melatonin and interrupts the sleep/wake cycle. It’s therefore unreasonable to expect that as soon as the lights are out that your body will relax and sleep.

lean vs fatI receive notifications to let me know how far off my 10,000 daily steps I am, when I’ve hit my target or how many I have over-achieved in the day. Appealing to the competitive side of me, I have started taking stairs instead of lifts, walking up/down escalators and going for walks at the weekends (when I typically would have had at least 1 Pyjama Day and remained on the couch) to ensure I walk at least 10,000 steps each weekend day. I am normally closer to 15,000 steps on weekdays.


bmiThere are two main things missing from the Flex wristband – both of which will be most likely solved by the Surge and Charge models which are coming out in 2015. The first limitation is that it doesn’t always recognise my gym time as an “active” time of day. While I might be killing myself doing leg presses or push-ups, because the wristband is not moving, nothing gets registered. The other limitation is that it doesn’t monitor my heart rate, therefore I still need to wear my separate heart rate monitor when exercising. Once there is a heart rate monitor on it, it will definitely recognise my doing press-ups as one of my most active times in the day! I also don’t take too much notice of the body fat percentage reading as it is not really possible to get an accurate reading by standing on scales. If you want a good reading it is best to do calliper/skinfolds testing. Fitbit has me at 34% body fat whereas calliper testing has me at 23%.

Does it work?

While some people may think the Fitbit wristbands are just a gimmick, I have actually really benefitted from my Flex wristband and Aria scales in just 2 weeks as I have made what I consider to be some very positive changes to my lifestyle as I try to resolve one of the biggest issues that I have that is preventing me from reaching my lifestyle and fitness goals: lack of sleep.