Review: Fitbit Flex

I don’t worry about my activity level—it’s always high when I’m well enough to exercise—but I’m a sucker for data. I have an awesome, old Garmin Forerunner for tracking runs, and my iPod Nano can track runs with its built-in Nike+ app, but I wanted something more basic that I could wear all the time. I’m interested in knowing how active I am throughout the day, not just during exercise. My mom has a Fitbit Flex and likes it a lot, so when I saw a decent sale I got one for myself. I chose bright pink because it was $10 cheaper than the other colors.

fitbit flex
The smaller sized wristband clipped at midway leaves me lots of breathing room.

When my Fitbit Flex box arrived, I found a small black tracker, two sizes of pink bands, a tiny wireless dongle, and a small USB charger inside the package. I have a prepaid iPhone 4 and can’t use much data, so I opted out of the Fitbit phone app and instead chose Fitbit’s MacBook-compatible program. The interface is user-friendly and easily customizable, and I checked it out while my new Fitbit charged.

From what I can tell, the Fitbit Flex works like a basic pedometer by detecting movement and translating that movement into an estimate of how many steps the wearer takes throughout the day. You can calculate your stride length and input your numbers for better accuracy, and add which arm you wear the tracker on to avoid dominant-hand movements counting as steps. From Fitbit’s website: “Changing this setting to “Dominant” will decrease the sensitivity of step counting and should reduce any over counting of steps when your body is not moving. The “Non Dominant” setting will increase the sensitivity of step counting, and we recommend this setting if your Flex is not counting enough steps.”

The sleep-tracking feature on the Flex intrigued me, since chronic pain often leaves me sleepless. My back pain has majorly decreased lately, which means I’m sleeping a lot more, but I still don’t sleep as well as I should. I hoped the Flex would help me analyze how often I stir around and disturb my sleep, but it didn’t work out for me. The first night that I put my tracker into sleep mode, I obsessed so much on having something around my wrist that I couldn’t go to sleep. Even without neuroses (yes, I can be a bit obsessive to say the least), the sleep tracking feature isn’t particularly sophisticated and can be prone to flaws, but I still wish it would’ve worked for me. It’s possible to lie still while wide awake and have the tracker register that you’re sleeping soundly, but when I’m in pain I don’t lie still, so that wouldn’t have been a problem for me.

If any of the Fitbit features are something I don’t want to use, I can easily remove them from my dashboard so I don’t have to look at them daily. I took off the sleep box to avoid reminders that I didn’t track my sleep. Another one I removed was the weight information and food tracking. I don’t have any desire to track my calories. The water-tracking feature can be helpful, though, especially since I’m prone to dehydration. It’s a serious concern for athletes in Florida.

My major gripe about the Flex so far is its sensitivity. It’s supposed to be compatible with an active lifestyle, but I’ve found that a lot of my daily movements put it into sleep mode. Sleep mode activates when you tap rapidly on the tracker for a few seconds. For me, it also activates when I mow the grass (vibration from the mower, I guess), pat the dog’s belly, or ride over bumpy terrain on my bicycle. I’m an old drummer and still have a habit of drumming my hands on the counter or my thighs, and that, too, sends the Flex into sleep mode. Not cool.

I saw a Black Friday sale that would’ve made it a lot cheaper than what I paid (even though I got mine on sale), and of course that was aggravating. I have concerns about the durability of the bands, and the expense of name-brand replacement bands is ridiculous. The bright pink has already gotten a bit dull after a couple of weeks, so I ordered a few off-brand (read: way cheaper) replacement bands, but I don’t appreciate having to do that. Can you imagine if we had to buy new watchbands every month? Fitbit needs to work on durability for sure.

I’ve worn the Flex while running several times, and it’s been fine. The tracker and band are lightweight and comfortable. Sweat sometimes collects inside the band, so I always take out the tracker after a run and make sure it’s dry. The Flex is water-resistant but not waterproof, which is annoying, but so far I haven’t had problems with sweat or shower water ruining it.

Despite some drawbacks, I like the Flex. It’s a great reminder if I’m working on the computer to get up and move around instead of melting into my chair. My mom and I are “friends” on Fitbit’s online program, and we can see each other’s step counts and cheer each other on if so inclined. I upped my goal to 15,000 steps per day from the stock 10,000, and I’ve found it pretty easy to reach 15,000, but the tracking software allows me to see my most active hours of the day rather than just displaying my number of steps. Which reminds me—it’s time to conclude this review and do my lower back a favor and go for a walk.

Nutshell Review

Pros: lightweight; choice of colors; easy and user-friendly online tracking program; comes with two sizes of bands; creates a good reminder to get up and move around throughout the day.

Cons: too sensitive—can go into sleep mode accidentally; bands aren’t durable and color doesn’t stay fresh; replacement bands are expensive; can be hard to snap onto wrist.

A Happy Surprise and New Exercises

I got a happy surprise with the results of my lumbar MRI—only one slight, diffuse disc protrusion at L4/L5. Everything else looked fine! After suffering through debilitating back and hip pain for 13 months, I feared the worst. I knew my neck was bad, but I still didn’t expect the MRI to show what it did several years ago—three herniated discs. Because of my neck and the severity of my back pain, I tried to prepare for the worst with the lumbar MRI results. It’s hard to prepare for bad news when it I already feel like so much of my life is either stolen or diminished because of health issues, but I readied myself for one more piece of bad news. Instead, light!

There’s still no good reason for my back and hip to be so messed up. Idiopathic muscle spasms—possibly related to the cervical dystonia diagnosis I got a few years ago?—started torturing me seemingly out of nowhere last year. Sometimes I truly wonder if a fibromyalgia diagnosis is just a doctor’s way of saying she doesn’t really know what the hell is really going on.

In the face of misery—misery that is compounded by pain and spinal dysfunction keeping me from doing the vigorous exercise that makes me happy—I’ve discovered a random piece of exciting news. I can climb stairs without much pain. Lots of stairs. I walked up nine stories a few days ago and felt great. Today, I walked up outdoor amphitheater stairs ten times. Walking down sucks, and if it weren’t for having to walk down, I think I’d walk up a lot more. The building where I went up nine stories has an elevator, but I have major death trap phobia about elevators so it’s not practical for me to ride down. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I either get over the elevator fear or can better tolerate walking down, but until something changes, I like the outdoor stairs. I can walk up them and then walk down a grassy hill to start over.

I started another new adventure this week. I’m now working out with a trainer at the 24-hour gym where I hold a membership. I’ve already found that I haven’t been giving good trainers enough credit. This guy knows what he’s doing and is putting forth a lot of effort to help me correct the ridiculous anterior pelvic tilt that worsens my back pain. I have a second appointment with him tomorrow, and while I prefer independent exercise, I’m pretty excited about having a professional ensure I’m not making myself worse.

Meanwhile, the pain persists. I finally agreed to a round of bloodwork, which is something I’ve avoided for a couple of years now. I got very tired of getting the same old results—low white cell count and low red cell count and anemia—without anybody nailing down a cause. It just didn’t feel worthwhile to open a vein anymore, but I’m ready to look for answers again. I’ve also agreed to a few non-invasive tests, but have yet to decide if I’ll actually go through with them. Sometimes the worst thing about having health problems is the time it takes away from the good parts of life. But I know how lucky I am to live the life I lead, so I’ll just complain a little bit then get on with things.