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My Fitbit Charge HR review

3:44 PM

I recently mentioned in passing that I got myself a Fitbit Chrage HR to help in my fitness and weight-loss quest. The suggestion came after I brought up my need to keep my heart rate up during workouts to my trusted group of friends.

At the time, said friend was in Europe and asked me if I wanted her to bring one back for me as they are way cheaper  over there than in India.
I had been using a pedometer app on my phone for quite a few years (cardio trainer if you were curious to know). That app kept me going on my walk, but it had a whole set of limitations.

The first one being that it only really worked somewhat accurately if put on the GPS and converting the distances into steps taking my stride into accounts.
The app plain old SUCKED registering vibrations indoors (counting more steps than actually taken).
All that while I was very curious to know how many steps I actually do take in my everyday life (you know, cleaning, roaming around...)

The Fitbit offered a whole set of new tools I could use to keep myself on track more efficiently : sleep recording, heart rate monitoring, constant calorie counting and YES recording every single steps taken at any given time during the day.
In short, I was interested in knowing how intense my workouts get, and how active I truly am during the day.

The good new is that Fitbit pretty much delivered.

The downside, which is expected with every fitness bands and apps out there, is that yes it has its limitations.

So much so, I decided to give you a rundown of my experience with the Fitbit Charge HR

Step counting

As far as step counting goes it is VERY accurate. I tested it inside my flat diligently counting my steps and comparing them to the Fitbit's count, give or take 1 or 2 steps it is accurate. It does a great job at registering which movements are actually steps, as opposed as gesticulating like a lunatic in your kitchen cooking dinner. 

That said, the tracker is a tad bit sensitive and there are some situations where it does record steps you never took, or situation during which you actually are on your feet walking but steps are not counted. 
On Indian bumpy roads, expect to be told you walked a few steps even though you were sitting in a car or auto. On my daily rides it usually end up registering about 5-600 steps I never took. 
It also tends to go wild when I am mopping the floor in my flat. I do take steps during that activity, but not as many as it counts. 
It also doesn't count much of anything if you are pushing a shopping cart in a supermarket. This is probably because your arm is locked into place and the vibration registered by the tracker are minimal. 

In the grand scheme of things however, there is not much to worry about, chances are that in an active day the steps it counted while you were commuting will balance all the steps you took but weren't counted during activities such as grocery shopping. Not to mention that you can't go in the shower with your tracker and you will end up walking a few steps without while you get ready in the morning or after a workout. 

To compensate the "bumpy road steps" I usually remove my Fitbit for an hour while I clean around, that way the 600 steps taken are still meaningful. 

Heart rate monitoring

Not all Fitbit track it, but the Charge HR does. It has a constant heart rate monitoring feature (the two green LED lights inside the band).
This was the one thing I was looking for as for me, the heart rate is paramount to workout right in order to loose weight (thanks to a sluggish metabolism). I needed a tool that let me instantly know when my walking pace needs to be more intense. 
It also helps me reach the cardio zone in aerobic workouts and stay there.

It is really accurate and I found it totally reflects the numbers registered by my doctor during my medical weight management assessment. 

Sleep monitoring

This was one of the feature I was not really looking out for in a band but is still handy to have. I am a light sleeper, and I always wondered how much of my actual sleep is good sleep. 

Turns out Fitbit does a fantastic job at pointing out how restless I can be while catching some ZZZZs.
I knew that of course, but not to that extent. And on many a night I woke up from feeling not so fresh, Fitbit confirmed my sleep pattern was all over the place. 
This has helped me adjust my schedule in order to really sleep those 7.5 or 8 hours I need a night, and yes, shockingly it means going to bed earlier to compensate for the restlessness I go through. 

Since I started doing this, I do wake up feeling fresher, and stay more productive during the day. 

Calories counting

Let's start going into the sketchier areas of Fitbit shall we? 

When you set up your Fitbit, it accurately determine your basal metabolic rate based on your age, height and weight. It then calculate how much calories above that you will burn from taking around 10k steps and be fully ACTIVE for at least 60 minutes a day (as in doing a workout activity). 

For me, it is estimated I should burn a grand total of 2407 calories a day (including my BMR). 

Fair enough!

It gets fuzzy when we come to how much calories Fitbit estimate you loose from walking, or any other fitness activity it either auto-recognise or the ones you log in manually (more on that later). 
It pretty much ends up over-estimating the calories you spend walking at a brisk walk, but drastically UNDER-estimating the ones you burn while doing a more strenuous activity, like Swimming for example. 

This is what it tells me : 

Walking for 24 minutes at an average heart rate of 105 beats per minutes : 171 calories burned

Swimming for 40 minutes and covering an estimated 1 kilometer: 165 calories burned. 

Uhhh? Seriously? I was Swimming non stop at a steady pace and I felt my heart pumping most of the time doing so. 
There is simply no way I burned as much as 171 calories walking for 24 minutes that day, and there is no question the amount I burned Swimming non stop was MUCH higher than that considering it did challenge far more muscle groups doing so. 

So yeah, in the end, I would not really put too much stock in the calorie counting Fitbit displays. 
At the end of the day, I know that if I worked out for 60 minutes and walked my 10k steps (which I do daily) I have burned those 2407 calories easily and probably went above on a Swimming or Aerobics day. 

Workout Tracking

This is the other sketchy area of Fitbit, it tends to recognise SOME activities as active, and not other, even if your heart rate was in the "fat burn zone". 
It's good at registering when you go on a brisk walk workout, or do an aerobic workout. It can't recognise you have been physically active if you climbed up and down a ladder carrying heavy boxes while cleaning your flat. 
It also doesn't register activities like yoga (you can do all the Surya namaskars you want and get in the cardio zone, it won't pick it up). It sometimes carry some minutes of a weight lifting workout toward your Active minutes count, sometimes not. 

For all those activities, you need to log them manually and even then, yoga will not count toward your active total. When you enter an activity manually, fitbit will try to correlate it with some of the data it already has (namely movement and heart rate).

Since the tracker is not waterproof, you'll always need to enter your swimming log manually as well, and for this activity, it'll make up a bogus heart rate along with the totally inaccurate calories count. 

Stair climbing

Fitbit is equipped to track the number of floors your climbed in a day. It calculates that number based on movement and altitude (it apparently can detect air pressure differences or something). I counts each 10ft increase in altitude as a floor. 
This means that it will count a couple of floors if you walk up a hill the same way it counts you climbing a flight of stairs. 

Fortunately, it seems to recognise that an increase in altitude without significant movement and a normal heart rate means you are in an elevator, those floors are not counted. 
But it does count an uphill bumpy car or auto ride as you climbing floors. 

Food log and weight-loss 

I left the worst of the worst for last!

DO NOT use this feature, it is the absolute worst food logging system I ever used, and it turns out I am not the only one cribbing about it, forums all over the internet are ranting about it. 

Logging a food is not hard, you can manually enter stuff for a very accurate calories count. But Fitbit seems to think you can still loose 500g a week eating nearly 2000 calories a day. 
Worse, it constantly put you in the "under budget" zone if you eat less than that. 

I am on a 1100-1200 calories a day diet coupled with at least 2-300 calories of physical activity, and I am loosing about 500g a week worth of fat. A diet and fitness plan sanctioned by a doctor. 
The last thing I need is a computer telling me "You are under budget, eat more".
With my high fiber, high protein and low carb food plan, I would probably end up with a severe stomach ache trying to eat that many calories anyway.

Interestingly, googling that Fitbit food log feature, I found out that many people gained weight following the calories intake/out-take plan set by Fitbit.

Needless to say it is the most unreliable feature coming with the app and band. Though I imagine a person with really really unhealthy eating habits could get a wake up call logging cookies and chips and end up eating less of them. That's probably what this feature was intended for. 


So, is Fitbit Charge HR worth it?

I'd say yes, providing you use it to monitor your steps, activity levels and intensity and sleep. Don't put much score in the whole calories counting features and accept that no fitness tool is 100% foolproof in measuring you and your activity (there always be a margin of errors).

In the end Fitbit will do what all apps or fitness band does best if you are motivated: It holds you accountable and it makes it less easy to cheat on your fitness plan. 

The biggest deterrent to getting this Fitbit model in India is the price. It sells at a MRP of 15K rupees. Amazon frequently offers it at a discount that competes with the European price these days though. 

So if you want to get it, either check if you haven't a friend or relative flying to Europe who could pick it up at a steal price (especially in the Airport in duty free) or buy it when it is discounted on Amazon.
If you aren't particularly interested in the heart rate monitor, there are cheaper models from the brand available too. 


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