Exercise tracking devices: A lifelong exerciser tries it and comes away impressed


There are three types of users of modern sports gadgets: early adopters, non-adopters, and weaker adopters. One of the most popular exercise gadgets in my long life first appeared around 2007, alongside the 1950s roller skates that tightened with a wrench. That would be the Fitbit. This device is a big hit: the company has sold more than 100 million devices to more than 28 million people. I was a non-adopter until recently. I was all for anything that gets people moving, but I personally didn’t see the value in a device for motivation or activity tracking. Being involved in exercise, fitness, and varied endurance forms of track and field competition, I pooped, mocked, and dismissed tracking movements as a distraction and a nuisance. I’ve exercised almost daily for over eight decades and can’t remember wishing I had an activity tracker.


However, after finding out that my health insurance company would provide a $160 tracking device for free, I decided to give the thing a try.

voila! After wearing this attractive, comfortable, and impressively handy-dandy Fitbit Versa Lite marvel of modern technology for a day or two, I stopped being a slacker adopter.

A Fitbit is one of many step tracker products, usually worn on the wrist like a watch. If you’re close to my age cohort, the device might initially remind you of the Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radio. If yes, forget it! We’ve come a long way from Dick Tracy’s super-fast comic book tool. That 1931 watch is a Bronze Age predecessor to the artificially intelligent/space age/Large Hadron Collider (LHC)-worthy Fitbit.

However, not everyone benefits from more exercise. In fact, Superperson-like athletes who are put to the test and deliver prodigious endurance could benefit from an anti-step, inverted Fitbit device that motivates, tracks and rewards non-exercise! This would be useful during periods when athletes benefit from not taking unnecessary steps, or even getting up when they could be lying down, to restore their exhausted bodies for the grueling ordeal of competition from each new day’s demands.


This applies to riders in the three-week Tour de France. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, walking or otherwise getting around when you’re not cycling is practically heresy for Tour riders. They need rest between stages. These endurance wunderkinders endure 21 brutal stages over a distance of 3,564 kilometers, including mountain climbs. They fixate on saving energy when they’re not on their bikes; they don’t come close to 10,000 steps in total for the entire race. (Source: Joshua Robinson, How to Exhaust a Tour de France Racer: Ask Him to Take a Walk, Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2020.)

In one of his many victories (all forfeited to cheating), Lance Armstrong rode 2,232 miles over the course of the Tour in 86 hours, 15 minutes, and 02 seconds, averaging 25.9 mph. Can you imagine the atta boy congratulatory badges a Fitbit would have given him for such an achievement? Unfortunately, due to the near-certainty that Tour riders and other professional athletes have other more consistent stats to deal with, such as hits, goals, touchdowns, times, points and so on, he missed out.On. However, we mere mortals can amuse and motivate ourselves in the pursuit of 10,000 steps a day (the gold standard for Fitbit users), heart rate, calories burned, floors climbed, zones crossed and so on.


I have always exercised regularly, as already noted, but activity tracking is a new experience. It is motivating to easily read out data such as number of steps taken, maximum and average heart rate, calories burned, distance traveled, stairs climbed and much more. It also details, if set to do so, for specific activities, such as swimming, cycling, running, walking, treadmill, weights, golf, tennis, yoga, etc. It even sends out different badges when you reach certain levels, such as 10 thousand steps in a day (I don’t have less yet). Yesterday I received the prize redwood forest badge, proudly displayed on top of this RWR. It came in an email from Fitbit, with this high praise accompanying the badge:

Well done! You climbed 25 floors. The tallest trees on earth cannot surpass the heights you have conquered. No wonder you just earned the Redwood Forest badge!

One activity it does NOT keep track of, which I’ve incorporated into my daily strength-training routine for the past six months (due to gym closures), is push-ups. I do 200 six days of the week, 50 at a time for four stops on a one-mile walk; on the seventh day, instead of resting, blessing and sanctifying the earth, as God did after he created it, I settle for walking four miles and doing 500 push-ups, 50 in each of the ten stops.

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In fact, my Fitbit can probably track pushups too – there’s more to learn, as the device has nearly as many features as an Apple Watch. In addition to time, day of the week and date, it has a timer, an alarm, weather, music, a wallet, a relax/breath function, Alexa, a find phone mechanism – oh god, it never seems to end. – there’s probably a get-rich-quick button somewhere.


I shared a copy of this essay with a colleague in Perth, Australia. I found his review most entertaining:

I smiled reading your conversion to Fitbit promoter. God will be encouraged to see you so easily influenced by some nifty technology. Watch out in the post for the next wrist gadget that will count your Our Fathers and Amens before rewarding you with Well done, you’ve reached the first step on the stairway to Heaven. I’ve heard (similar to Trump’s they say) that it’s normal for people to repent when time is up. I’ve even heard of people switching to spa treatments.

This led me to think that perhaps Fitbit enthusiasts should heed Lord Chesterfield’s words: “Carry your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket, and do not take it out and strike it only to show that you have one. If you are asked what time it is, tell it, but do not announce it hourly and unsolicited, like the watchman.’ Lord Chesterfield, statesman and writer (22 September 1694-1773)

In other words, the good Lord (Chesterfield, that is) urged the writers of wellness newsletters to spare us unsolicited details about their step counts, heart rates, calories burned, stairs climbed, heart minutia, and other insufferable details. Point made.

So whether you’re a die-hard fitness enthusiast or a seasoned non-athlete, consider a tracking device. It’s cheap (and maybe free if you have good health insurance), versatile, and can lead to more daily exercise, which, if you’re not a professional athlete, can be a very good thing.