11 Fitbit Secrets – What the Fitbit Manual Doesn’t Tell You
How does Fitbit calculate calories burned? What apps work with Fitbit? These and many other questions answered in our “What the Fitbit Manual Doesn’t Tell You” series.
Fitbit Alta price when reviewed: $119.86
1. How Does Fitbit Calculate Calories Burned?
Fitbit does a surprisingly accurate job of calculating how many calories you’ve burned throughout any given day. The number you see in your app is a result of two types of information: the personal data that you enter when you first set up your Fitbit, and the activity data that Fitbit tracks.
By entering information like your height, age, gender, and weight (be honest, now), the Fitbit app is able to determine your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is the number of calories your body burns when you’re at rest; it’s the energy your body expends just to stay alive and functioning, and it accounts for about half the calories an average person burns each day.
Then, of course, the accelerometer on any Fitbit model will keep track of your activity; the number of calories you burn when you’re moving, of course, will be significantly higher than your BMR. Again, the accuracy of this number depends on the personal information you’ve entered. Combine the BMR number and the activity number, and you end up with a total number of calories burned each day.
2. Why Does Fitbit Start With Calories Burned?
Your Fitbit’s tracking data will reset each day. However, many Fitbit users may find it confusing when they wake up, open the app to check how well they slept, and see that they’ve already burned a few hundred calories. What’s going on?
As mentioned in the previous section, your Fitbit will calculate your BMR throughout the day — and throughout the night. You burn calories even while you’re sleeping (usually between 40 and 100 an hour, depending on how much you weigh), and the Fitbit app counts these.
Once you understand that Fitbit counts all of your calories burned and not just those burned while you’re exercising, the numbers are less alarming and make more sense.
3. What are Active Minutes on Fitbit?
You’ve probably noticed a section on your Fitbit app called Active Minutes. This refers to any time you’re wearing your Fitbit and engaging in any activity more strenuous than a regular walk. So, taking part in anything like jogging, brisk walking, and cardio workouts all counts toward your active minutes.
More technically, Fitbit active minutes are minutes spent doing activities above three metabolic equivalents, or METs. Furthermore, you’re only credited with active minutes when your MET value is above three for at least ten minutes; this is because the US’s Center for Disease Control recommends engaging in moderate or intense aerobic activity for at least ten minutes at a time.
Fitbit wearers are initially given a daily goal of 30 active minutes per day. However, this can be easily changed in the app if you want to push yourself further.
4. How Does Fitbit Track Your Sleep?
One of the most popular Fitbit features is its sleep tracking capability: people like knowing about the quality of their shuteye.
Fitbit’s higher end models like the Surge and the Charge HR automatically detect sleep mode, but for the lower end models, a few quick taps is all it takes to put the tracker in sleep mode. Then, sleep tracking is based on your movement. If you’re still, your Fitbit will count that as sleep time. When you wake up and start moving, Fitbit will recognise that you’re awake.
However, because it’s a wrist-worn or clip-on tracker and not a human observer, there is some margin for error. For example, if you’re in bed and very still, the Fitbit will often count that as asleep, even if you’re not. Similarly, if you toss and turn quite a lot, you may notice that Fitbit records a lot of times awake throughout the night, even if you remain asleep during these fitful bouts.
It’s also important to note that while most Fitbit models do track sleep, the Fitbit One does not.
4. How to Sync Fitbit
Syncing your Fitbit with the corresponding app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Windows phone, is remarkably easy because it’s all done wirelessly via BlueTooth. However, BlueTooth does have a somewhat limited range, so you need to have your Fitbit within 15 or 20 feet of your smartphone or tablet to make the sync work.
To sync your Fitbit with its own app, just open the app on your smart device; it will sync automatically. Or, if you want to turn all-day sync on, your Fitbit will sync throughout the day. However, it’s important to note that the all-day sync function can drain your battery quickly; if you’re trying to conserve power, it’s best to have it off.
5. How to Sync Fitbit With MyFitnessPal
If you’re already a MyFitnessPal user, or if you’d like to see your Fitbit data in a more robust and more specific exercise app, you can easily sync your tracker with MyFitnessPal. To do this,
- You’ll first want to have both the Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps set up with accounts created.
- Then, open MyFitnessPal and tap Apps. You should see Fitbit as an option.
- Tap it, allow MyFitnessPal to access your Fitbit data, and continue to follow the directions.
Once synced, you should see all of your future Fitbit activity logged in MyFitnessPal.
6. What Apps Work With Fitbit?
In addition to MyFitnessPal, Fitbit is compatible with a wide range of health and fitness apps. These include popular workout apps like
You can also sync your Fitbit data with weight loss tools like
- Weight Watchers,
- Lose It,
- and Trendweight.
Plus, Fitbit works with mental wellness apps like Lumosity and Mind Body Connect.
Of course, syncing with third party apps is not at all required to make the most of your Fitbit. The proprietary Fitbit app does a great job of aggregating your activity and sleep data and putting it in visual formats so you can make some sense of it. Additionally, it’s a fully functional wellness app, complete with a food log, social component, and motivational badges.
7. How Many Steps in a Mile on Fitbit?
When converting steps into miles, the general rule of thumb is 2000 steps for each mile. However, this is not the case for everyone. Stride length varies from person to person, depending on their height and leg length, as well as how fast they’re running or walking. If your height is above average, you may find that you need fewer steps to reach a mile; similarly, if you’re on the shorter side, you may need more.
Therefore, when you start using your Fitbit, it’s important to pay attention and do some conversions on your own. Walk a mile for a few days in a row and check your number of steps, and you’ll have a more accurate idea of your own steps to mile ratio.
8. Can Fitbit Get Wet?
It’s a question that a lot of Fitbit owners have: can I get my Fitbit wet? The short answer is, unfortunately, not really. The long answer is a bit more encouraging.
First of all Fitbit trackers are not meant for swim tracking. This includes even the top of the line Fitbit Surge. Not only are they not designed to count laps, they’re not even water resistant beyond one metre. Additionally, you’ll want to remove your Fitbit before you take a shower after your workout, as the company does not guarantee that it will be able to withstand the amount of water hitting it as you’re getting clean.
However, because Fitbit trackers are meant to encourage physical activity, and because physical activity can make most of us a little (or a lot) sweaty, all Fitbits are sweat proof. They’re also rain and splash proof, so you should be able to jog in precipitation or run through puddles without damaging your tracker. Beyond sweat, rain, and splashes, though, you should not get your Fitbit wet.
Related: The Best Waterproof Fitness Tracker
9. How to Find a Lost Fitbit
Losing their Fitbit is a big fear of many owners of the popular trackers. Sure, they get clasped or clipped on securely, but they sometimes fall off, slide off, or otherwise go missing. We won’t even talk about those of us who can’t always remember where we put it while we’re in the shower.
Fortunately, finding a lost Fitbit isn’t difficult. The Fitbit company suggests that you first check your laundry hamper, especially if you use a clip-on Fitbit Zip or Fitbit One, as many users simply forget that the device is affixed to their clothing. Then, as with any lost item, you should retrace your steps to find your Fitbit.
However, when you’re on the hunt for a lost Fitbit, you should have the app open and watch for syncing; a sync means you’re within 20 feet of your lost device.
If that doesn’t work, you can try using a BlueTooth finder app. Most of these are free, and they will show you the strength of the signal from any nearby BlueTooth device. However, these apps won’t specify if the signal is coming from a Fitbit or from another source.
Finally, if you just can’t find your Fitbit and you’re desperate, you can drop a few quid on an app called Fitbit Finder (for iOs or Android). It’s a BlueTooth finder app that focuses specifically on Fitbit, turning your search into a high tech version of Marco Polo — and a successful one at that.
10. When to Charge Fitbit
If you’ve got any Fitbit model besides a Fitbit Zip, you’ll need to charge the battery from time to time. While the Zip is powered by a button cell battery, the other models contain a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that needs a re-up every few days.
To know exactly when to charge your Fitbit, you’ll want to check the life expectancy on your particular model’s battery; it should be anywhere from five to ten days. As for how to charge it, simply attach it to the charging dongle for a few hours. And what is a Fitbit dongle, you’re wondering? It’s just the charging cable.
11. What is the Best Fitbit to Buy?
Anyone in the market for a new Fitbit might be wondering what is the best Fitbit to get. It’s a good question, but the answer isn’t easy. If you want to know what Fitbit should I buy, you’ll want to consider your expectations for the device as well as your budget before you bring one home.
Fitbit divides its trackers into three categories: Everyday, Active, and Performance.
Those in the Everyday category — the Zip, One, Flex, and Charge — perform basic tracking functions, and all but the One track sleep as well. While these devices can certainly be used by individuals who are training for races or competitions, they may not be robust enough to provide all the data that more serious athletes are looking for.
The Active trackers by Fitbit are the Charge HR and the upcoming Blaze. These devices are able to measure heart rate and other bioimpedance factors to provide a more comprehensive picture of the wearer’s fitness. They also contain some helpful smartphone notification features.
And finally, the Fitbit Surge is the company’s Performance device. It does everything the other Fitbit models do, plus it contains a built-in GPS for the most accurate distance information.
Of course, as the features increase, so does the price. Fitbit trackers start at £49.99 for the Zip and go up to £199.99 for the Surge. When considering which Fitbit to buy, you’ll want to weigh features against cost to stay within your budget.
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