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Lessons from my Fitbit

Leslie Carbone

Happy New Year!  Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to recharge my fitness activities.  So I’ve been thinking about what works, and applying some lessons I’ve learned from my fitbit.  I started using the device to track my exercise a couple of years ago after I had gained a few pounds.  The fitness tracking was helpful, but much more important than the step counts it gives me are the lifestyle modifications it inspired me to make.  I hope you find them helpful too:

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Don’t try to “store” exercise.  In the last few years, lots of walking has become a big part of my lifestyle.  So I decided that I didn’t have to exercise on days before or after extreme walking.  That’s when I started to gain weight.  At first I thought I was overestimating how much walking I was doing.  That’s why I got the fitbit–to keep track.  Since the standard recommendation is 10,000 steps per day, I figured I’d be okay as long as I did 70,000 steps per week.  Wrong!  So I gradually upped my weekly quota to 100,000 steps per week.  Still no good.  What I finally realized is that 20,000 steps on one day and 0 steps the next is nowhere near as effective as 10,000 steps on each day.  I have to exercise daily.  So I still let myself have a modified break after an excessive walking day, but I make sure to do something, typically something short but more intense than a brisk walk, like a three-mile jog-walk or a routine from my favorite work-out DVDs.

Move throughout the day.  I noticed in looking at my data that the most impressive calorie-burn spikes came from intense exercise and light movement.  There’s no question that moderate exercise is beneficial, but its diminishing daily return seems to make it less efficient than both intense and light activity.  So I deliberately added some light movement during my day, with simple changes like quickly jogging up a flight of stairs even when I don’t otherwise have reason to do so.

Plan for active travel.  Much as I love to exercise daily when I’m home, or at least love how it makes me feel, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it when I travel.  It feels like I’m wasting time I could spend exploring, and it undermines the escape from daily drudgery that travel should bring.  So I work movement into my travel plans.  For example, I avoid renting a car when possible and find a hotel in a central location so that I’ll walk from site to site.  I make sure to pack comfortable shoes.  I bring a bathing suit so that I can take advantage of the water–at the beach or in the pool.  And it seems to work, because I tend not to gain weight when I travel, even though I let myself enjoy the cuisine.

Don’t rely on exercise for weight loss.  Exercise is great for stress relief and overall feeling good, and it’s helpful for weight maintenance.  But it just doesn’t work for weight loss, at least not for me.  I lose weight when I cut back on food, especially carbs, and gain weight when I cut back on exercise.  The converse just doesn’t hold.  No matter how much I upped my daily activity, weight loss didn’t happen without cutting carbs.

Keep in mind that it takes a lot of exercise to burn a lot of calories.  Think about that dessert in terms of how much exercise it will take turn burn it off.  Is it worth it?

Pay attention to how my body feels.  This is what it’s all about.  The advice of responsible fitness gurus and nutrition experts can be very helpful for ideas.  But what matters most is how those ideas work for me.  Likewise, the data I’ve gleaned from my fitbit have been helpful not by themselves but because of how they shed light on why my body feels the way it does–fat or thin, toned or flabby, calm or stressed.  It’s considering both elements together that has helped me figure out what changes to make.

As we kick off the new year, I hope these suggestions give you some ideas to try out as you seek to meet your own fitness goals and do what makes you feel great.

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