I attended an American Cancer Society Relay For Life conference last fall in Nashville where every participant was given a pedometer, and at the end of the conference we turned in the number of steps we'd taken. (The conference was held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, so finding opportunities to walk wasn't a problem.)
Fitbit takes the basic idea of the pedometer and supercharges it with high-tech features that help you better track your progress towards your health goals.
I have been reviewing a Fitbit Ultra provided by Verizon Wireless; this is actually an older model, and the web site now lists a model called the Fitbit One which seems to be the closest equivalent.
Like a normal pedometer, you wear the Fitbit on your belt or waistband during waking hours. It has a more-sophisticated motion sensor than inexpensive pedometers; it can not only count steps, but it knows when you're climbing a flight of stairs (or a steep hill) and in general how active you are.
The Fitbit also functions as a sleep monitor. When you get ready to go to sleep, you clip the Fitbit to a wristband and wear it on your left hand, if you're right-handed, or vice versa. The Fitbit then measures your quality of sleep based on how much you toss and turn.
A wireless receiver plugs into a USB port on your computer, or the Fitbit can even communicate directly with some types of smartphones. It uploads its data about your walking, activity, and sleep, and you can track your progress through a web site interface. Fitbit will show you a pie chart breaking down how much time you've spent today in a sedentary mode, lightly active, fairly active or very active. (It can be a depressing pie chart.) It not only tells you how many flights of stairs you've climbed, but converts that into a mental image by telling you that you've climbed the height of the "HOLLYWOOD" sign, for example, or the height of Godzilla.
The sleep tracker tells you how long it took you to fall asleep, how long you were actually asleep, how often you woke up during the night, and what your "sleep efficiency" is expressed as a percentage.
Not directly tracked by the Fitbit device, but also trackable by the program, are your weight and caloric intake. Fitbit makes a scale, sold separately, that will automatically upload your weight to the Fitbit interface, or you can just use your existing scale and enter the number into the program manually. You can also manually tell the Fitbit software about activities that aren't easily tracked by the Fitbit or about those you do when not wearing the Fitbit. You can also tell Fitbit about your meals as a way of tracking your caloric intake. That's even easier if you install the Fitbit Companion app on your smartphone.
I found the device remarkably easy to set up and use, and the information provided by the software is easy to understand and useful. I can easily see a device like this as a helpful motivator to people in their quest to be more active and improve their health.
The Fitbit is available from Verizon, from various retailers, or from the Fitbit web site, Fitbit.com. The Fitbit One is about $100; there is a less-expensive model, the Fitbit Zip, that lacks the ability to track sleep or stair-climbing. It's about $60.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.