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Use Of Fitbit to Measure Exercise Adherence



fitbitBased on the number of patients that appear in my practice wearing a Fitbit, I do wonder what research on the use of this activity monitoring device actually shows.

Interestingly, despite the popularity of this device, studies in scientific journals using Fitbit as an intervention to increase physical activity are rather sparse (most studies focus on validity of measurement).

Thus, I was interested in a study by Lisa Cadmus-Bertram and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin published in JMIR mHealth.

The rather small study involved 25 overweight or obese, postmenopausal women enrolled in the intervention arm of a randomized controlled physical activity intervention trial.

Over 16 weeks, each participant was advised to use the Fitbit physical activity tracker and website.

Evidently, the participants were happy wearing the device as the median participant logged 10 hours or more/day of Fitbit wear on 95% of the 112 intervention days, with no significant decline in wear over the study period.

Overall, participants averaged 7,540 (goal 10,000) steps/day and 82 minutes/week (goal 150) of accumulated “fairly active” and “very active” minutes during the intervention.

After peaking at 3 weeks, there was a small declines of 8% for steps and 14% for MVPA by 16 weeks.

So the devices were used and the participants did achieve and maintain a moderate level of daily physical activity.

The question remains, however, as to how representative these data actually are. After all these were a rather small number of volunteers in a research study – perhaps not your everyday user.

Nevertheless, the benefits of self-monitoring for self-management of chronic diseases (including obesity) are undisputed.

Thus, if you have experience with the use of Fitbit either yourself or in your practice, I’d certainly be interested in your experience.

@DrSharma
Vancouver, BC

12 Comments

  1. I am a Fitbit wearer. I can’t say how much it influences the frequency of formal exercise – my workouts are fairly inconsistent. However, wearing the Fitbit had an immediate and lasting impact on my overall activity levels (over a year now). In order to maximize steps I now always take the stairs, park far away and no longer complain that my laundry room is in the far corner of the basement of our 2 story home. In fact, I now see laundry as an opportunity to get more steps in. On weekends I easily track over 13k without a work out (I have young active kids so I do a lot of running around with/after them). The challenge is weekdays sitting at a desk – typically about 7k on a still day – but the Fitbit usually motivates me to work in more steps to bring my steps into the 9-10k range.

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  2. I’ve used one for the last year. I lost 165 lbs over two years .. reaching goal weight in August. I have to say I find it helpful for both keeping track of exercise and food consumption, and for planning food consumption. And it’s motivating. But for the first year, I used a cheap $10 pedometer from a hardware store and a notebook as a food diary and that worked as well. And Fitbit ain’t cheap. Mine was a birthday gift.

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  3. Great to see you post about this! In my experience, use of a Fitbit tends to increase my activity because I don’t always realize how inactive I am throughout the day. Reaching the end of the day and finding out I’ve only walked 3000 steps gives me a push to move more! I’d be interested to see larger studies that look at whether there are correlations between use of a Fitbit or similar activity tracker and long-term weight maintenance.

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  4. I use a Gramin Vivo Smart and it definitely motivates me to walk more. I love when it tells me I’ve hit my goal. However, I live in Calgary and I do not like walking on snow/ice so my outside walking has dropped off in the last week or so. I need to figure out an alternative. Mall-walking during the Christmas shopping season is a contact sport.

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  5. Thank you for your article, Dr. Sharma. I have been using a step counter of one kind or another for the past four years. I acquired my Fitbit approximately twenty months ago. Since beginning to monitor my steps, I have made it a goal to achieve 10,000 steps at least six days a week. Given I am a homemaker and live in a row house, my daily walking didn’t begin to come close to this goal. I purchased a treadmill three and one-half years back so I could ensure my goal(s) could be met. I absolutely love my Fitbit. I appreciate that it monitors my sleep and also the silent alarm on it. Together with the step counter, I have made incredible strides in the amount of exercise I get each week. Tracking steps leaves me accountable for the amount of exercise I receive each day/week. It is no longer a guessing game. The only down side is that I wore out my new treadmill in a record three and one-half years. It is now replaced with one with a light commercial motor (as I use it so often). My hope is that my Fitbit and treadmill will last for many years to come.

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  6. While I do not use the FitBit (I have my own pedometer company), I have used a few different pedometers over the years and now use, exclusively, our tracker called the P1NG (www.p1nghealth.com).

    On December 2nd when I achieve my daily 10,000 plus steps, it will mark 9 years of not missing a single day of getting 10,000 steps or more.

    2 things have enabled me to achieve this:

    1. I wear a quality pedometer or tracker every day, all day (from first thing in the morning to last thing at night) so there is no guessing as to how much I have walked. As Tom Peters says, “What gets measured, gets done.”

    2. 10,000 steps is not my goal. Goals are things to shoot for, hope for, and over time those goals may or, as in most cases, may not be achieved. Instead, almost 9 years ago I made ‘10,000 steps a day’ my non-negotiable! I promised myself that I would not go to bed until I had at least 10,000 steps on my pedometer/tracker. Because I look for steps throughout the day, it is rarely a problem. I would guess there have been less than 50 times in over 3200 consecutive days that I have had to go out in the late evening to get the remainder of my steps.

    There have been a few times that I have had to plan ahead and do the ‘extraordinary’ to make sure I got my steps. One example: 8 years ago I ripped the bicep tendon off the bone of my right arm (yes that really, really hurt). The day surgery to repair it was scheduled for 9 am. Not knowing how I would feel after a general anesthetic, I got up at 4:30 that morning (December 17th) and went for over a 9,000 step walk in the snow. Getting to the hospital and walking up to my room and later leaving the hospital and walking around home easily gave me the rest of my steps that day. I’ll do whatever it takes and so I walk anywhere and everywhere – on ferries, in airports, shopping malls, around parking lots and, of course, my neighbourhood. As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff says, “Some is good, more is better, everything counts.”

    When I speak to groups I encourage them to find their own level, something that can be their personal non-negotiable. It can always be increased over time – just never missed . . . because as soon as you miss it once, the second time is easier and then the third and pretty soon the pedometer is in the sock drawer.

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  7. I love my Fitbit! I have been using it for 1.5 yrs. I use it to also track my sleep too. My son, daughter-in-law and brother use it and we often participate in challenges together.
    The Fitbit website is useful for food logging although I am not consistent with that.
    I am a personal training who works for the Athletics and Rec dept at a college and we use pedometers for most of our health challenges as most of our students & staff love to track steps!

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  8. I have never used a fitbit, but I have used numerous pedometers.
    A few years ago when apart of the NS WLP preparing for the VSG, I had to make a commitment to walk 30 minutes a day. I started slow and used a pedometer to gauge my progress. I found it helpful. In the nine months before surgery I lost 196 pounds. The pedometer was just one of many tools on my weight loss journey.

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  9. I purchased my Fitbit over almost a year ago. I tracked my sleep for a little while and stopped when the band gave me a small rash. (Something to keep an eye on for those tracking sleep.)

    It does help me hit my steps and try to best the 10,000 steps during the odd day. I like the food database. I would say it’s better than weight watchers, and it helped me consciously deal with a few habits.

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  10. I’ve used a Fitbit for a couple of years now, and find it extremely useful for tracking activity. I started from a nearly sedentary lifestyle, and the fitbit tracking “nudges” me a bit further than I might have gone otherwise on many days. I also like participating in a group, where I can compare myself to my daughter, sister-in-law, etc.

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  11. I do not use a Fit Bit but a Garmin. I always use 7500 steps as an absolute minimum amount of steps. As someone who lives with chronic pain on a daily basis, tracking your steps (at least for me) is a very important part of my life.

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  12. I wear a fitbit. Started out with a fitbit one, then moved on to the fitbit charge. I find the fit bit is harder to cheat with, in the sense that other pedometers will count steps by just tapping your foot. I find at times it gives me an extra push if I am really close to my goal. All the little badges are encouraging, apparently I have climbed the same number of stairs as it would take to get to space! The dashboard gives the option to track food, as well as other exercise activities. I find sometimes it provides that little element of fun and games as a challenge to meet goals, and when you link up with other fitbit wearers, it brings on a friendly challenge atmosphere.

    Overall I find that it can help provide a little motivation when personally I may not be motivated.

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