Numberscruncher: My Fitbit Addiction

Oh, Fitbit, the love of my life.

I’m one of those people with a Fitbit addiction. I am obsessed with getting my 10,000 steps in. I love it, even if it lulled me into thinking I had 10,000 steps on Monday when I actually had 9,821. I was traveling that day and suspect that the synching was screwed up by changes in time zone. Nevertheless, my streak has reset.

My longest streak is 141 days, broken by a stomach thing that left me too weak to get out of bed one day. That’s probably the most weight loss I’ve had, too. I haven’t lost weight on the Fitbit, but my health is excellent (knock wood), and I’ll credit the nudge to exercise for that.

As for the 10,000-step standard, there’s not much scientific basis behind it, but it’s enough to represent some decent activity. Many new Fitbit users are surprised to find that a typical day of driving and desk-sitting leaves them at 2,000 or so steps, and that’s the point: to reach 10,000, you have to get in some activity. Some days, that will take intention.

In other words, the Fitbit is controversial, but so is just about everything concerning weight and health. I have no idea what the answer is – although I could find a peer-reviewed study that would agree with any position you want to take.

We’re a long way off from settled science, but what we do have is a ton of data uploaded by all of us Fitbit users. It’s fun to go through, too. I’m not sure Duluth, Minnesota is America’s Fittest City, but it’s interesting to compare the activity of those people actually using their Fitbits to such metrics as the incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. What we don’t know is how Fitbit users compare to the general population. It’s a fun set of numbers, but it doesn’t tell us much without context.

And that’s the general problem of data analysis. The Fitbit is fun, and it may help researchers generate important insights about exercise and health, but for now, it’s a prop. It helps me, but it may not help you.