Food for Thought · Health and Fitness

How fit can you go? Tracking my fitness with Fitbit Flex

Any of my friends can tell you when it comes to sports and fitness, I’m a very competitive person. When my friend Heather from Yankee Doodles recommended the Fitbit Flex which had already been using, I couldn’t resist getting one for myself. I was curious to know how my fitness levels add up with BodyCombat, BodyPump, capoeira and recently starting BodyBalance too.

My Fitbit Flex and replacement bands arrived last week and Nala couldn’t resist giving it a sniff

There are a few different devices you can purchase from the Fitbit range, I decided on the Flex for its convenience (once it’s strapped to your wrist, you don’t really need to take it off unless the device needs charged) and how lightweight the device within the wrist band really is.

This slim, stylish device is with you all the time. During the day, it tracks steps, distance, and calories burned. At night, it tracks your sleep quality and wakes you silently in the morning. Just check out the lights to see how you stack up against your personal goal. It’s the motivation you need to get out and be more active.

Fitbit Flex

I was apprehensive about how well it would work if it only counted steps, it sounded as if it was just a glorified pedometer that had a high price tag because of the marketing research and brand name. From what I’ve been told about the Flex, it seemed a lot of your food intake, fitness activity and sleeping times need to be logged manually which made me wonder what the point of getting the device was.

Flex uses a MEMS 3-axis accelerometer that measures your motion patterns to determine your calories burned, distance traveled, steps taken, and sleep quality. Flex also contains a vibration motor, which allows it to vibrate when alarms are set to go off.

– Fitbit Flex technical specifications

Before getting the Flex, I knew I had to learn more about it before I paid for something which might not be suitable for what I wanted it to do. I had watched various Youtube reviews to get an idea of what I’m getting myself into. It definitely has it’s pros and cons like anything else, but I also noticed the reviews were dependent on user preferences. The Jawbone Up was another activity tracker that the Flex was regularly compared to, but there were also some who preferred the Samsung Gear Fit (at the moment can only be synced to Samsung smartphones). I was a bit apprehensive about how well it would work, but decided the reviews were convincing enough for me to give it a go. Here’s what I learned from doing my cursory research on the Flex:

  • Fitbit devices can be synced using Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity to iOS devices as well as NFC connectivity to certain Android devices. Not to worry if you’re like me and has a Blackberry or other OS devices, Fitbit is currently in process of improving list of supported devices
  • In the meantime, a wireless dongle is provided so this can be wirelessly synced with PC/Mac as long as the device within 15-20 feet of dongle
  • The device is water resistant and can be worn in the shower or in the rain
  • If you have any friends you know who has a Fitbit device (doesn’t need to be the same one although you should be tracking similar data, like distance, active minutes and steps walked), you can invite friends to see their stats, challenge and compete with them to see who’s the fittest!

I would recommend shopping around for best prices if you’re going for the Fitbit Flex in your local area or online. I bought the Slate bracelet for £62.82 online from PC World. If you wanted any of the other colours other than Slate or Black, these cost more and are about £79.99. If you want a colourful band to make it a more exciting purchase, you can buy replacement bands from eBay for £6.50 each with free P&P – I bought the small-sized violet and teal ones. (Tip: If your light coloured band gets dirty from normal dust and dirt, not more lasting stains etc, you can clean the rubber bracelet with an eraser!)

On the day I was meant to pick up my Fitbit, I was very impatient indeed and went straight to the local shop to collect it when I received the confirmation e-mail it had been delivered to the store. Luckily enough, the replacement bracelets I bought arrived that morning so I didn’t have to wait to change the band I wanted to wear. For a surprisingly small package, it sure does pack a punch! As you can see above, it comes with the slim activity tracker device, Small (for 5.5 – 6.9 inch or 140 – 176 mm wrists) and Large (6.3 – 8.2 inch or 161 – 209 mm wrists) sized bracelets to suit smaller women’s and larger men’s wrists as well as a USB charging cable, wireless syncing dongle (for those who don’t have the relevant app-supported smartphones).

The slim box for the Flex includes the pedometer/activity tracker device, two rubber wrist bands (Small and Large) as well as a wireless syncing dongle for tablets, laptops and PCs and a charging cable

The band has a clear strip so you can see the LED display which gives you an indication of where you are in reaching your goal.

There is also an opening on the back for the Flex to be easily slipped out for charging and slipped back in if the device was to be taken out for any reason.

To get started, you need to set up a Fitbit account if you haven’t got one already. This allows all the data your device collects to be synced to the Fitbit server so you can see whether you’ve reached your goals and other vital information the Fitbit can track and log. The Fitbit Dashboard is quite comprehensive and can log various information relating to your fitness and health:

It’s not necessary to log water or food intake, you can still track your activity levels and how much walking you’ve done during the day, but this would help those who want to know what they’ve been eating and drinking for fitness purposes. I’ve been logging what I eat during the day and how much water I drink, only because I’m on the path towards eating healthier and drinking more water and want to track how I’m doing on my journey to a healthier eating lifestyle. If you want to log this information for your own use but don’t want friends to see, just change your privacy settings by clicking on the cog at the top right corner of the Dashboard and click Settings, then privacy settings.

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Change your privacy settings to what you want friends (and the public) to see, and what you want to keep private

On the Fitbit Dashboard, you’ll also need to set Flex to either dominant or non-dominant wrist it’s worn on – I chose to wear mine on my dominant wrist (right hand) as this decreases the sensitivity of step counting when you’re not in motion so will be more accurate. Not that it would cause any issues with writing/typing etc when I’ve already got other bracelets on that wrist!

Just another bracelet on that wrist!

It can be a bit daunting when you come across a device that has no buttons or icons to guide you, but I promise the Flex is simple and easy to use! The Flex has 5 LED lights to indicate 20% each achieved towards your set goal. It will always start with one light so you know your Flex hasn’t run out of battery. To see your progress, simply tap screen twice.

By tapping the screen twice, the LED display will show you how you’re doing in relation to your goal

One other thing I wanted to mention was, in DHTV’s review of the Fitbit Flex, he noted that shaking the device counts as steps. In the end, this is still an accelerometer device and those wearing it would want to accurately record their fitness levels and I would imagine would not deliberately shake their wrist to increase the number of steps. If this was recorded as steps instead of activity, there are ways around it. If you were, for example, at a dance class, you can log this by clicking on the Activity tab and logging the start and finish times for your class.

If the activity isn’t listed, create your own custom activity, adding your start and finish times, if you like you can also add optional details like distance travelled and calories burned, and the tracker will log the rest

To put the Flex into sleep mode, tap screen continuously for 1-2 seconds. It will then vibrate and a display of lights that eventually fade out to alert you this is activated. To turn off sleep mode, tap screen continuously again until it vibrates when you wake up. You can log your sleep and wake up times manually on Dashboard if you forget to tap your device and through the Dashboard, you can also set silent vibrating alarms for certain days of the week if you’d rather not wake up your partner with a ringing one. I’ve set mine up to wake me up for work and there’s no way you can go back to sleep with that vibrating going on your wrist. How fantastic is that?

Once I gave the Flex it’s first full charge (despite what the instructions say – to have abouta 60% charge – I charged it for over 12 hours to maximise battery life), I was ready to go!

I surprised to find on the first day of use how much information the Flex collected – it counted the number of steps I took, distance travelled and ‘very active minutes’ were calculated from walking to and from as well as work at the allotment without any manual logging of any information on my part.

Progress after my first day of using the Flex

Just to clarify, ‘Very Active Minutes’ are counted as any time you spend on mainly high-intensity activities and cardio workouts:

All Fitbit trackers calculate active minutes using metabolic equivalents (METs). A MET is a unit used to represent the amount of oxygen used by a body during physical activity; therefore, METs can be used as an indicator for intensity of physical activities.


It’s useful to remember that less intense activities may accumulate less active minutes, but you can see on your profile page that the Flex does differentiate between different levels of activity:

Don’t be alarmed, I only started usnig my Fitbit Flex from 27th of July, so I haven’t been a complete couch potato and not moved at all before then!

Since I started using the Flex 7 days ago, I haven’t been as active as I normally am. Capoeira was on a 4 week hiatus (this started again last Wednesday although I’ll be back at class starting today) and I had to give my Thursday Combat class a miss for a blogger event (stay tuned!), so it was only really the Saturday morning classes I could track my activity levels for. I had been going out and about every day though, so it wasn’t as if I was sitting at home inactive!

My activity levels after Saturday morning BodyCombat, BodyPump and BodyBalance classes as well as a overview of the week’s activity in comparison to my set goals

I only sync my Flex using the dongle at night although I log my food and water intake immediately when possible, but it’s definitely addictive, seeing how you’ve done during the day and how far you’ve come in relation to your daily goals. Having friends you can compete against or cheer on takes the phrase ‘friendly competition’ to a new level, although I find it’s also a good motivator for those who are serious about getting fit.

Regardless of what the instructions that came wiht the Fitbit Flex says, I would give it a good first, full charge. Don’t leave it at 60% – regardless of the battery levels, before use plug it in (I’ve already got an unbranded USB charging adaptor, you can get one like this from eBay from 99p) and charge it for at least 12 hours before use. I’ve done this and been using my Flex for 7 days now and it’s still got a 50% charge left – a lot longer than the 7-10 day battery life reviewers of the Fitbit Flex have had with theirs!

I’m already looking forward to seeing what the Flex will show me next week once all classes are running as normal!

Have you got the Fitbit Flex or another activity tracker? What are your thoughts?


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