Fitness motivation on your wrist

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"What's that thing on your wrist?"

I hear this question a lot in reference to the Fitbit Flex strapped to my wrist day and night.

The Fitbit is a fitness tracker that does so much more than count your steps - like the small, less accurate pedometers you may have clipped to your waistband at one time.

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of a moderate activity (like walking) at least five days a week. This can improve blood pressure, help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and make you more aware of your activity level. Plus, walking is one of the easiest ways to get exercise.

Fitness trackers have been on the market for several years, and a few of the brands available are Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin. Each brand carries several options and price ranges to fit any budget and lifestyle.

Trackers use accelerometer technology to sense user movement to count steps and miles traveled, flights of steps climbed, calories burned, heart rate and sleep patterns. They also can include silent alarms and text/call notification capabilities, food-tracking, GPS for run-tracking and ways to connect with friends to challenge one another. The batteries on most trackers last an average of 5-7 days and can be charged within an hour or two.

Depending on the brand and style of fitness tracker, the user can see results at the touch of a button on the device itself, via a smartphone app or by logging into a computer for more detailed information.

The Fitbit Flex - which I have been using for more than a year to motivate me to move more and lose weight - has a display that lights up with a series of five dots to track your progress. When you reach your set goal of steps for the day (mine is set at 10,000 steps - or roughly five miles) the tracker vibrates, and the dots are all filled in. You also get a message from the app relaying you have reached your daily goal and an email with your stats for the week.

As silly as it sounds, I get excited when that little wrist strap vibrates and lets me know I have reached my goal. On occasion, I have extended a walk for 10-15 minutes or made laps around my apartment trying to reach my goal. That little flashing light and vibration is a huge motivator.

Jennie McMullin, a Fitbit Surge user from Springfield, said, "In combination with the MyFitnessPal app, I can be a lot more mindful of calories in/calories out. If I see I'm close to a round number, I will run in place or pace around. (My husband Chris) laughs at me jogging before I get into bed sometimes."

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found in a 2007 study that users increased their physical activity by more than 2,400 steps a day versus those who did not wear a pedometer.

"Just over 2,100 steps might not sound like that much, but it equates to a 27 percent increase in physical activity - which is really astounding," said Dena Bravata, the study's lead author and a senior research scientist in medicine.

Trackers can help give people the incentive needed to reach multiple fitness goals and can be synced with apps like Weight Watchers and MyFitnessPal to be fully integrated into a healthy lifestyle for weight loss and physical well-being.

Jennifer Evans, a Fitbit Flex user in Fairfax, said, "I got it for two reasons: to track the steps I walk at work and to track the distance I go when I exercise. I have had it for 10 months. I also use the app to track food and calories in versus out. I have used other apps or tracking systems before, but having the Fitbit info all in one place has made it easier for me to stay on track. I also find that setting step goals or joining in competitions has helped me go just a bit further than I normally would. I also have taken it on vacation to judge how my poor eating matches against my tourist travels."

Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle isn't easy, but with simple tools like fitness trackers, it can make those goals seem a little more attainable and are just an arm's length away.

Rausch can be reached at srausch@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015