BYU students embrace Fitbit health goals, step challenges

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The path twists and winds in between couches and a round table inside the small college apartment. BYU student Brittany Warner runs the path she’s already circled too many times to count, waiting for the sign that marks the end of the ridiculousness.

She feels a buzz on her wrist as five dots blink up from her Fitbit, and she stops. Ten thousand steps. Finally.

Brittany Warner uses her Fitbit to track her daily fitness. (Natalie Stoker)

Fitbits are a popular way for BYU students to easily track their fitness and health statistics. People new to Fitbit generally start out with a standard goal of 10,000 steps each day.

“I didn’t run until I got it,” Warner said. “It’s nice at midnight to look and see how far you got. I’m sad (whenever I don’t) make my goal.”

One feature BYU students seem to love is Fibit’s challenge system, where users compete against each other to receive digital badges on their Fitbit profile. A weekly leaderboard is featured prominently on the app, and the band vibrates to notify users of their friends’ progress. Accomplishing daily step goals gives users the “Goal Day” badge, while walking 70 lifetime miles will earn them the “Penguin March” badge.

The competitive aspect might be a part of the Fitbit’s popularity, Warner said.

“I try to do the challenges. There’s a group race every Monday through Friday. You try to beat the people in your groups,” she said.  “It’s very competitive, absolutely. You get notifications when people pass you, and it makes you want to go and pass them.”

BYU student Alex Dressler and his family members take the fitness competition to new levels as they lay both pride and fortune on the table, even bet money on who will finish in the top three spots each week.

“For my family, there’s money on the line. The animal comes out in everyone,” Dressler said.

The Fitbit allows users to compete in weekly fitness competitions between friends. (Natalie Stoker)

Some students come up with different methods to get their steps in each day. Dressler has taken to jogging in place to catch up on his off-days, and Warner will run around the apartment to boost her step count.

But BYU student Jane Goodfellow has come up with an even more creative way to help her record her 10,000 steps.

“The weirdest thing I’ve done is horizontal running,” Goodfellow said. She said lying on her side and running in the air actually works. “But mostly I just jog in place to get the steps I need.”

Fitbits aren’t new technology. The first Fitbit bands were released in 2012, and regular pedometers and fitness trackers have been available much longer.

The first Fitbit band to hit markets only tracked steps people took. Newer bands can track heart rate and sleep patterns and can act as a watch. Some vibrate to act as a silent alarm or to notify wearers of an incoming phone call or text.

Different Fitbits are tailored for different levels of physical fitness. Dressler has gone through several bands trying to find the one that matches him best.

“I didn’t like the Flex because it didn’t do much,” Dressler said. “I switched to the Surge HR because it tracks sleep. It’s a big factor for me.”

The Fitbit can sync with a smartphone through its corresponding app, which allows users to monitor step counts and track their exercise, sleep patterns, calories and water intake over time.

“The best part is being able to look at your stats from yesterday, because it tracks your past data,” Warner said. “I think it helps show my improvement better. It makes me happy to see that.”

Dressler said the Fitbit has found the right combination for success.

“There’s just something about wearables. They gather info about you and help you understand how active you’ve been,” he said. “It’s been the best thing for me.”

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