SPECIAL REPORT: Fitbit Frenzy - do activity trackers help battle the bulge?

SPECIAL REPORT: Fitbit Frenzy - do activity trackers help battle the bulge?

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - You see people wearing them everywhere you go - activity trackers.

From Fitbit, to Jawbone, and devices made by Microsoft and Apple, more than 21 millions devices were sold last year, many people buying them to help get fit and and fight the battle of the bulge.

"I'm an avid walker so this helps me," said Jean Davis, of Box Springs. "It lets me know how far, if I'm walking fast enough cause I'm trying to get a mile in 15 minutes so it helps me keep track of my miles."

Before she started using Fitbit last October, Davis, 57, says she mostly walked alone but now she connects to friends and family and they motivate each other to take more steps.

"My sister Annie lives in Shiloh and my brother is in Lawrenceville, we have people in LaGrange, and Illinois, and we all connect through the Fitbit so we know who's doing the most miles every week, who's walking the most steps and that keeps everybody motivated," said Davis."

"I like the competitiveness of it," Davis's sister, Annie Stringer, says. "I'm keeping track of her, more than myself and I'm pushing my daughter also, she joined when I joined and it's the competition and she cheers me on and so does my sister she cheers me on," Annie said.

Annie bought her Fitbit just four months ago and these sisters admit it is the competition - the thrill of being the "high stepper" of the day or week that keeps them moving.

Most people use the wristband trackers, though there are some that clip on. Most can be synced to your cell phone and at any given point during the day you are able to check how many steps you've taken, how many calories you've burned, some will even show how many hours your slept the night before.

Many of the participants in a "boot camp" at Body by Design Gym in Columbus wear activity trackers as they sweat their way through the hour long class two to three days a week. Nancy Nunez has lost 42 pounds in the last four months.

Nunez uses her Fitbit to monitor how hard she's working but says it's all the exercise that's really making the difference.

"Until you have someone telling you what to do and motivating you and pushing you, you're not burning, you're not pushing yourself to the level you can," Nunez said. "But by coming here I've lost 8 to 10 lbs a month, prior I was losing maybe 2 lbs every couple of months."

Margie Singleton wears a Microsoft band, which, like Fitbit, syncs with her phone.

"It keeps me honest for one," Singleton said. "We really don't know how sedentary we are till we actually look and see we did 1300 steps when we should be doing 6,000, so I like it and it kind of helps me be better from day to day.  If yesterday I did 7,000 I want to do 8,000 today."

Trainer and owner of Body by Design, Carlos Moffett says many of his clients wear the trackers which he says can be beneficial if you can afford the $50 to $150 price tag. But he says you really don't need one. He tells his clients there is a simple recipe for getting fit and losing weight.

"Eighty percent of it is made in the kitchen by eating healthy, that would be the first thing, then I'd say get your cardio in daily, preferably early in the morning and after that, definitely you want to go do some type of weight training. A lot of people shy away from that - don't shy away especially women," Moffett says.

Columbus Regional Hospital Wellness program manager Dayton Preston has some concerns about the trackers. He thinks the heart rate monitor is a good feature but says the trackers can sometimes torpedo your fitness goals.

"The downside is that some people are using it as a replacement for adequate exercise," Preston said. "The fact of the matter is the body is pre-conditioned to walk we do it every day and random steps are great as a supplement to an exercise program but at the end of the day if we look at that activity and it says 10,000 steps if you use that as a excuse not to exercise that's where we run into problem."

Preston says the devices are great for getting you up and moving, but if you're not getting the results you want it's time to add in more exercise.

Sabra Strickland of Columbus agrees. She likes her tracker but knows it takes more than steps to reach her fitness goals. "It can help you. You have to get on track first, you have to diet and exercise, this can help you stay on track but you have to get on track first," says Sabra.

For Jean and Annie "Fitbit" has helped to put them on track and thanks to a little friendly competition they're meeting their health goals one step at a time.

Even though most of the people we talked to had favorable responses to the activity trackers, some did complain that the step count can be inaccurate and that the trackers sometime count sudden arm movement as steps.

Earlier this year a group filed a lawsuit, claiming the Fitbit heart monitoring devices are unreliable and could have dire consequences.

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