Fitbits are more popular than ever, and while the fitness tracker is a great way to monitor steps, steps will only get you so far. Lots of types of activity don’t generate steps and while you can track other forms of exercise and use a step conversion table to get your step equivalent, it’s still only an estimate. What I don’t think most people realize (or pay attention to) are the other things you should be tracking with your Fitbit that have nothing to do with steps. Personally, I think these are more important than steps because they give you a better idea of your overall health.
3 Things you should be tracking with your Fitbit that have nothing to do with steps
It is my professional opinion, as someone who reviews over 100 client files a week, that sleep (or lack thereof) is a bigger problem than steps. Depending on the Fitbit version you have, you can get some pretty detailed data on your sleep. Of course, it’s not perfect (nothing is with these devices), but it gives you a decent idea of how well you are sleeping.
You can see your general sleep cycles and my Fitbit will even give me a sleep score to tell me just how good it thinks my sleep was on any given night.
If your sleep quality is “poor” most of the time, and you are regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep, you would be so much better off working on improving your sleep quality and quantity over worrying about steps. I know with kids that can be pretty impossible, but do what you can. If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling Facebook or Instagram after you finally get your kids to bed, try reading a book and going to bed a bit earlier instead. As nice as it is to relax and veg out on the couch, chances are you’ll feel better if you go to bed.
You can see from my sleep data that I’m not an earlier riser, nor do I go to bed terribly early, but that is largely because I teach fitness classes most evenings (and twice a week don’t even get home until after 9 pm) and before bed is my preferred reading time.
I used to feel guilty that I don’t usually get up earlier than I do, but between being a fitness instructor and having fibromyalgia, I’ve discovered that allowing myself to sleep a bit later makes me more of an enjoyable person to be around. The one exception seems to be when I’m on a trip. I’m much better getting up early when I’m travelling because I don’t want to miss anything! 😀 As a result, my sleep quality is usually terrible. Oh well, I can sleep when I’m home!
Your Resting Heart Rate
Once again, this depends on the Fitbit version you have, but if yours records your resting heart rate (RHR) that can be a much more useful thing to track than steps. Why? Here’s why. It will give you an idea of when you are overtraining, under recovering, or even coming down with something.
Before I explain that a bit more, it’s important to note that women of childbearing age will naturally have some increases in their RHR during their cycle. Mine tends to increase just before my period, and then goes back down afterwards, but some women find their RHR also increases during ovulation. So, when looking at your graph it’s really important to factor that in.
That aside, if you have been training hard and notice your heart rate is creeping up higher and higher, you probably need a few more rest days and/or to scale back on your workouts a bit so you don’t wear yourself down.
When you are coming down with a cold or virus, that is another time your RHR can suddenly jump up and, of course, times of high stress.
Someone who is on a diet and eating at a deficit wants to really watch their RHR because if it keeps going up – up – up they are likely overtraining. If that same person notices their RHR is going down – down – down, that is normal because your body is spending more time in its parasympathetic nervous system.
When you look at my RHR from last month, you’ll notice it stays pretty steady (+/- a couple of bpm) until mid-October. Then it goes up and keeps going up. Why? I’ll tell you why. I was under a fair amount of stress trying to get through a really busy period in my life, I hadn’t had a day off from exercise in two weeks, and my period was due.
Any of those things would make it go up for a few days, but in this case, all three made it go up and stay up. It was something I was watching, so it didn’t surprise me, and I knew it wouldn’t be until this week when things calmed down and my period started that I would see it start to lower again (and it has).
Speaking of periods…did you know you can track your cycle right in the app now? Prior to them adding this feature I would track my cycle through another app because even as someone who’s been having their period for 25 years, I still don’t pay attention to when it’s coming and if I stop and note in an app when it starts and ends, it can give me an estimate of when I can expect my next period which is so helpful. It also allows me to see my average cycle length and I can track how heavy it is and any other symptoms I might have. If I don’t record it, when someone asks me about my period I can’t answer a single question about it.
Bonus item: Your Weight
This is a bonus–since men aren’t going to track their cycles–instead, you can track your weight. You don’t need to be anal about it, but entering your weight even once a month (or every few months or whatever floats your boat) allows you to have a record of your weight trends. I got my first Fitbit back in 2014. I have some weight records tracking back that far and it’s really useful to be able to see what has gone on with my weight over that period of time.
It’s also useful for total vanity reasons when you see a picture of yourself and know when it was taken and think–MAN! I LOOK GOOD!–you can go see how much you weighed. Remember weight doesn’t account for body composition, but it is still a useful metric to have. If getting weighed is triggering for you, then just forget about this one entirely 😉 , but if it’s not, throw your weight into the app now and then and start your own record which could prove useful down the road.
That’s it for the three things you should be tracking with your Fitbit that have nothing to do with steps.
Do you track any of these?
If you have a Fitbit (or another tracking device) do you look at any of this data? What, besides steps, do you track using it? Let me know in the comments!