Move you fat git.
That’s the message I frequently take from the little buzz that arrives through my wrist at 10 minutes to the hour while sitting at my desk.
If I haven’t walked 250 steps in 50 minutes, my Fitbit vibrates to warn me I have been too static and to get moving, an easy habit to slip into for office workers.
More often than not, it prompts me to rise, walk to the water machine or make a coffee to please my device and get the steps in before it’s too late and the hour ticks over.
Stat attack: My Fitbit device shows how many steps I’ve taken, my heart rate, calories burnt, mileage covered – and the time
This gamifcation of exercise is all part of the wider statistics the device – linked to an app on my phone – spits out each day, with 10,000 steps being the target.
Since I picked up the fitness tracker in November, I have let it influence my daily habits somewhat, mainly by making time for extra walks.
Data is the new oil – or at least, that is the claptrap some peddle. Personally, I do find it interesting to see how many steps I’ve taken, miles I’ve covered, how I’ve slept, my average heart rate and how much I’ve sat still on a given day.
I am a journalist who deals in statistics and figures – I love nothing more than trawling spreadsheets for trends and crunching data.
Others might find that entirely dull. I may come to a point soon where I too find it boring – or a bit too like an episode of the dystopian satire Black Mirror, as I walk around frantically, glancing at how many steps I’m doing.
But at the moment, I quite like to find out my sleep score on a scale of 100 and what percentage of my day I spend on my backside.
And the fact that I see plenty of others walking around checking the fitness tracker on their wrist suggests I am not alone.
For many, the worry is how companies such as Fitbit or Apple, with its smartwatches, use all this data. Fitbit is currently in the process of being bought by Google for $2.1billion.
Fitbit tell me: ‘Consumer trust is paramount. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of our DNA since day one.
‘We will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why.
‘The company never sells personal information or Fitbit health and wellness data.’
Popular: Wearable technology to track fitness, steps and sleep have become big business in the last decade – will it continue? (stock image)
The perfect Valentine’s gift?
Wearable technology has been a fast moving trend in the last decade. Fitness tracker sales themselves have dipped off slightly in recent years, with more people wanting smartwatches.
An estimated third of Britons have some sort of fitness tracker while Fitbit itself has nearly 30million users globally.
This is likely to rise when it releases it releases its annual report this Thursday which will give a more up-to-date snapshot.
It has been one of the fastest growing trends of the decade. Millennials are the most likely to own one, and those aged 55-75 the least likely, according to Statista data.
It is forecast that 1billion of the global population will have one – or a smartwatch that does the same thing – by 2030.
Even my wife, who couldn’t understand the appeal before I started using mine, requested one as a Valentine’s gift.
It’s not quite a set of scales, but it doesn’t feel far off. She wants to measure how many steps she makes each day as she feels her smartphone tracker isn’t an accurate depiction. She has succumbed.
‘There is no way I’m letting it track my sleep,’ she has told me sternly though. I bet she will. It’s a curiosity itch too good not to scratch.
A fitness tracker transformed my life
This is Money assistant editor and consumer journalist, Lee Boyce, writes his Consumer Trends column every Saturday.
It ranges from food and drink and retail, to financial services and travel.
Have an idea or suggestion? Get in touch:
One adopter of the technology is my mum.
Last July, for her birthday, my sister bought her a relatively inexpensive fitness tracker.
She was once a heavy smoker, but gave up in 2005.
However, six years ago, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – or COPD – thanks to the cigarettes.
It is estimated around 3million Britons have the condition.
Unfortunately, it left her short of breath and made it impossible to even go for short walks with her and my daughter, born in 2018.
When she received the gift last summer, little did we know it would kick-start my mum’s health and result in her losing around a stone and a half in weight.
She has slowly built up her fitness to the point now where last weekend, she walked five miles to my house from hers, which includes plenty of hills, leaving me gobsmacked.
Six months ago, my retired mum would have struggled to walk for five seconds out of the house without wheezing. She goes for morning meanders, afternoon walks and evening strolls – the change in her health is clear to see.
Now, she frequently does 30,000 steps a day, the equivalent of 15 miles.
This wouldn’t have happened without that fitness tracker encouraging her.
She says: ‘I was cynical when I first put that device on. But I was shocked into action. I saw how few steps I was doing in any given day.
‘I was determined to get to 10,000. Then 11,000 and so on.
‘Everyday, I have tried to beat my best and I feel healthier than I have done for years – even decades.
‘I’ve got to the point where I am singing the praises of my fitness trackers to anyone who will listen – it really has changed my life in the last six months.’
I genuinely never thought that fitness tracker would work and I’m thankful my sister bought it for her – I’m looking forward to the summer where we she can accompany her granddaughter and I on walks without becoming breathless, a far cry from summer 2019.
Someone else told me on Twitter that they use a tracker as part of managing diabetes, with the additional information ‘helpful in a number of areas.’
What I’ve discovered: From predicting illness to how well I’m going to sleep
I am traditionally a slow adopter to technology, mainly over data fears.
Someone ridiculed me recently because I refuse to give up my paper train ticket for a plastic one, and I like to spend cash as much as I do contactless.
But after seeing the success my mum had, I decided I wanted a Fitbit to see if it could help shift my fat bits, which have become a little more doughy since becoming a parent.
Three months later, here are some of the titbits I’ve discovered:
It knew I was becoming ill: My resting heartbeat is typically in the low 60 beats per minute.
However, before Christmas, over a few day period, it spiked to nearly 70. Lo-and-behold, I came down with an acute virus.
Weekend spike: My heart rate spikes at the weekend, the fitness tracker shows me – meanwhile, I need to improve on my cardio – my 2020 goal is to get out of the average score
My resting heartbeat spikes at the weekend: I am more chilled at my desk than I am at home looking after my daughter.
My heartbeat revs up a few beats per minute, probably as I fret over keeping a tiny human alive.
Midweek walks: I attempt to get away from my desks most days for a brisk walk to clear my head and burn those all important calories
I walk more: As well as the non-activity prompts, I have been inspired to get out at my lunch break at least three times a week to do a 45 minute power walk.
This was after I realised I was spending around three quarters of my waking hours non-active – IE, sitting at my desk, on the commute home or on the sofa.
This helps clear my head, get the creative juices flowing and improve my mood.
Mobile: This matrix keeps track of whether you’ve done your 250 steps each hour while it automatically registers exercise, such as brisk walks
Motivational messages: The app also gives some daily motivation. For instance, it recently told me:
‘Research shows adding two minutes of walking for each hour you sit during the day may be linked with a longer life expectancy. A two-three minute walks = about 250 steps.’
And: ‘A 30 minute walks or jog may help prevent a buildup of stress during the day. Aerobic activities help keep levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – in check.’
Both these messages hit home.
Bad sleep vs good sleep: The screenshot on the left showed a particularly bad night sleep – the one on the right a good one, along with the period you slept deep, light or in REM
Sleeping (like a baby): As a relatively new dad, I was interested to see how parenthood was hitting my sleep.
It breaks it down into deep sleep, light sleep, REM and awake. I can now pinpoint the exact moments my daughter wakes in the night, or the cat comes in and decides to paw my face.
It can also give me an indication as to why I’m feeling tired the next day and the effects booze has on your sleep.
In the past 30 days, I typically spent 51 per cent of my sleep in ‘light’ mode. This, the app explains, makes up the most of your night and promotes mental and physical restoration.
I spent 20 per cent in deep sleep which helps with physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning. The app adds that if you spend solid time in this stage, you’re likely to feel extra refreshed.
Meanwhile, I spend 17 per cent in REM – rapid eye movement sleep. This typically occurs later at night and is apparently important for your memory and mood. This is the stage where dreams are more vivid, heart rate is elevated and breathing is faster.
Sleep: The tracker measures your sleep out of 100, with 80+ being good and also gives you a 30 day average, along with a benchmark of other your gender and age
Competition increases exercise: Four of my colleagues also use Fitbits. In the app, you can set up a league table with others.
Upon much ridicule of our non-Fitbit colleagues, the five of us embarked on a few days of frantically checking the table and trying to outdo each other.
As a result, most of added thousands more steps than we usually would. It also encourage far more walking to each others desks, then simply emailing.
‘Leaving it behind’ anxiety: There have been a couple of occasions where I have left my tracker at home. It definitely has an impact – it’s almost like having a ‘cheat day.’
It’s replaced my watch: Out has gone the Hugo Boss number I wore. What’s the point of wearing a watch that doesn’t nothing else but tell the time?
All of the above was recorded on a Fitbit Inspire HR device that I picked up for £69.99 from Currys/PC World. Not all fitness trackers have the features above, so research the models before purchase.
Will the trend continue?
Wearable technology is ranked the number one fitness trend of 2020, as it has been since 2016. By 2023, the market is set to be worth half a billion pounds.
Some companies now offer the gadgets for free as long as users get the right amount of steps.
Where could this lead to the future: Cheaper insurance for those who are more active? Medical bills for those not doing enough or refusing to wear one?
Fitbit itself has launched a ‘premium’ service. It almost like a stat-driven Weight Watchers with guided programs, more detailed health insights, advanced sleep tracking and tailored workouts. It costs £80 a year.
It even has its own scales which measures weight, body fat percentage and BMI and puts them into a neat little graph.
In the last 12 years, Fitbit tells me it has created the largest global health database. It has 228billion hours of heart rate data, 202trillion steps logged, 517billion minutes of exercise and 10.5billion nights of sleep.
It claims that three quarters of users with a weight loss goal with a Fitbit lose weight and users get 10 minutes more sleep with one.
The two are linked, it says, as there is a 12 per cent higher chance of losing weight with seven hours sleep per night.
When I was 16, I wrote a list of things I wanted to achieve in my life. One was to buy a an antique Rolex – I think I have waved goodbye to that dream, thanks to technology.
A Rolex wouldn’t vibrate to tell me to stop being lazy, no matter how beautiful it looks. That said, it wouldn’t hold precious data about me and my lifestyle.
I lost nearly half my weight
One Fitbit user, Ashleigh from Glasgow who works in a drama school, tells me that she lost 9 stone after using a Fitbit thanks to a health scare.
She had to have an emergency operation and when she came round, the doctor told her if it wasn’t an emergency, then they wouldn’t have operated because of her size.
After joining a few weight loss programmes with little success, she decided to jump on the fitness tracker bandwagon.
She started to become competitive with herself and at the end of each day, if she had not done enough steps, she would jog around her flat.
She went from 19 stone to 10 stone. She says: ‘I never considered weight loss to be linked to social and wellbeing but by reclaiming control over my body, I’ve gained new friends and built up confidence to do things in the community that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do before.
‘I just keep thinking, just keep going. Don’t stop now.
‘Just seeing how many calories I burn when exercising helps me to eat better and gain a better understanding about what my body needs to keep me fit and healthy.
‘I think community and friendship has been at the heart of my journey.
‘I hadn’t realised how lonely I’d been before I started this journey. I’d isolated myself from this amazing community of people all around me and one day it just felt like by achieving my weight goals I was rewarded with friendship, a community of like-minded people to keep me going.
‘It was something I’d never expected to find but I’d be lost without now.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.