How the Fitbit trend fares in the fitness world

Sitting on Matt Miller’s desk is a life-changing device that is collecting dust: his Fitbit.

Miller, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore, received the Fitbit as a gift two years ago. At first, he wore it diligently. But ever since he took it off, he hasn’t put it back on.

“I wore it to keep off my freshman 15, but after freshman year I kind of forgot I had one,” Miller said.

Fitbits have proven that they are practical enough to be mainstream, but their impact might be short-lived. Although these devices are helpful to some, they don’t seem to be taking off in the way people expected.

Fitbit stock took a tumble in the past year, dropping 59 percent, according to Fortune.

Although the device is widely popular as the commercialized Fitbit, the concept is nothing new in the world of fitness.

Shinya Takahashi, a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition and exercise science department, has been using accelerometers to collect data on the activity of students for years. Accelerometers are similar to the Fitbit in function, but are a lot bulkier and less fashionable.

The results give an idea about the general activity level in college students. Every second they collect numerous data points that can be analyzed in many ways, much like the Fitbit.

Takahashi sees some benefits in the Fitbit.

“I think it can be used as a motivational tool,” he said. “If you exercise on a regular basis, it’s probably not going to help as much. Somebody who does need a little motivation by looking at the data might benefit.”

Takahashi also believes that the accelerometers and Fitbits both are flawed in the way they collect data.

“The challenge is that there are a lot of algorithms out there that utilize the wrist because it’s easy for people to wear. As opposed to where it is probably most accurate for physical activity, which is around the waist because the center of mass is moving.”

However, Takahashi says some studies show the compliance rate is much higher for wrist wearables, which is why commercial products have geared their devices to be worn as a watch.

Miller is among many who have grown tired of the wearable. While the device is capable of showing the user of information, wearing it turns out to be harder than one might think.

“When I use it, it’s really fantastic,” Miller said. “It lets you stay on track, and you can set goals on it to help you achieve them if you just stick to it. If you have the will to do it, it will pan out really well. I just didn’t have the drive to keep wearing it.”


Video: Why one Fitbit wearer likes her wearable:

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It is possible to be motivated to stay active without a Fitbit; you just need to find your passion, says Collin Jensen, a nutrition and exercise science major and member of the UNL barbell and rugby clubs.

“The best way to get active is for people to find something they enjoy doing,” he said.

Jensen advocates for intramural and club sports as a way for college students to get exercise. But it depends on what motivates the individual.

“I see Fitbits as a tool. It won’t really do anything for you,” Jensen said. “It’s like giving someone a hammer and saying, ‘Build a house.’ Not everyone will be able to use that information and appreciate what it means.”

That doesn’t mean that Fitbits can’t make an impact on fitness.

“I think Fitbits can be beneficial in getting people that attitude of ‘I’m going to start working out,’ just like buying a pair of new running shoes. But if that’s your only reasoning you will fail,” Jensen said.

People shouldn’t overlook the other ways to stay healthy besides counting steps or monitoring Fitbit data, he said.

“Get in a schedule, hold yourself accountable, and make sure you’re eating healthy and providing yourself with the energy to exercise.”

 

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