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Exercising and activity tracking with VivoFit

Yes, I’ve joined the VivoFit crowd. I mentioned this the other day in passing. I don’t need some really expensive piece of equipment to keep track of my activity levels, but I did need something now that exercise is so important to keep my rheumatoid arthritis managed. In conjunction with the drugs, of course! My pedometers from the Global Corporate Challenge had finally died/been passed on. The clip broke on one from being attached to my bra, the other one I handed to the kids who had been pleading for months to be allowed to see how many steps they do in a day.

Costco had VivoFits at a reasonable price, so I grabbed one. AFTER I bought my VivoFit, I read a couple of reviews. One really should do this BEFORE purchasing, but I was in a daring mood.

My VivoFit

My VivoFit

It is all good – I like it! See the little + beside the word goal? That indicates I have exceeded my daily target!

Both reviews I read had some valid points, both good and not so good.

The first was by Brent Rose on Gizmodo, Garmin Vivofit Review: Some Good Ideas But Not Quite There. The second, much more positive review, was by DC Rainmaker, Garmin Vivofit In-Depth Review. Both of these reviews were written in March 2014, almost twelve months ago. No-one can accuse me of being an early adopter!

Rose didn’t like the lack of a light on the screen, or that it needs a separate heart rate monitor. Rose also had some difficulty with it recognising his run distance correctly and there is no elevation functionality. Rose felt a GPS watch would be better.

Rainmaker, on the other had, found the VivoFit eminently fit for purpose. He has way more photos than I include here, so if you want some artistic shots, click over to his review.

What neither Rose nor Rainmaker discussed was using it as a partner app for MyFitnessPal, a nifty food and exercise tracking app. I had tried tracking my food during the Global Corporate Challenge, but with a different app and it was just too time-consuming. I like MyFitnessPal and have counted every calorie this week. What makes it so easy is the barcode reader, the ability to copy meals to other days and when you do search manually, your recent foods are listed.

The big plus with the VivoFit device itself for me is you really never have to take it off. It is comfortable to wear and water resistant. The battery lasts 12 months without charging (just replace it). VivoFit also tracks your sleep – well, it tracks how restless your sleep was, no stages of sleep tracking.

For people like me who want to track activity levels to ensure they get a healthy amount of steps a day minimum (and we all know that is 10,000 steps, don’t we?) it is perfect. I’m not about to start training for a marathon, I don’t need a $800 sports watch with all the fancy statistics gathering capability. I just want to know how many more steps I need, what the time is, and if I do want to attach a heart rate monitor it has the ability to synch with several different ones including one you can buy with the VivoFit if you desire.

Garmin Connect for the VivoFit talks to MyFitnessPal on your computer and/or your phone. The VivoFit uses bluetooth to communicate with your phone and comes with a little USB receiver for your computer. I use the phone. One complaint I do have is the synch of the two apps is not as reliable as one might expect. It does catch up in the end.

Here are some of the MyFitnessPal screens from the phone. My calorie allowance is 1200 a day, but I earnt 100 extra from my step count. At the time I took this shot I was three calories in the red, but I’ll do enough steps before bed to wipe that out. Love to “earn” a small Freddo Frog every now and then!

Screen1

I have noticed the vitamin and mineral values seem to be N/A for a lot of foods and consequently my readings for potassium and Vit. A seem to be down everyday when looking at the daily nutrient summary. The above screen is the first screen that displays when opening the app.

You can click on the grey bar containing the daily summary numbers to view the food diary. I rarely click on the big “Add to Diary” button which goes to a much less interesting screen. I like the diary view.

Screen2

Under each meal you click “Add Food” to add something to that meal. Scrolling down there are sections for each meal, snacks, water intake and right at the bottom of the display a summary of the information from the VivoFit device. Under the “More” link are options to copy the meal to other days. Very handy for meals like breakfast.

Once you click on “Add Food” you can search for a food, read the barcode or select from Recent Foods. You can also save meals and there is a multi-add function as well.

Screen4

LOVE that magic barcode button!

If you do like the big “Add to Diary” button, the screen looks like this. Yes, you can add exercise in here too and that will feed over to the VivoFit app. Entering start times and end times means there is no double counting.

Screen3

Meanwhile, over on the Garmin Connect app, we have detailed information from the VivoFit.

Screen5

Then we have various other helpful screens including how the sleep looked.

These screens are fine on the phone, but if you sign into the actual website on the phone to change any of the settings, the website is a nightmare on a phone device. I can see, having looked at the website from the PC browser, the website pages have not been optimised for mobile devices. I have not looked at them on a tablet.

Looking at the home screen on the PC, the display looks remarkably like the tiles on the phone, just arranged differently.

Garmin Connnect on PC

Garmin Connnect on PC

It is the settings screens that have not been optimised for mobile devices and you can see how this layout would be a struggle on a phone. I didn’t bother taking a screen shot of the phone, as it made no sense to do so!

Heart Rate Settings

Heart Rate Settings

MyFitnessPal also has a website and while graphs are available on the phone app, the web reports are slightly better.

Net Calories

Net Calories

OK – I had a couple of bad days. It was a tough week!

Why the funny target numbers on the Garmin screens? I thought you’d ask that. On the VivoFit you can have the daily step target adjust automatically or you can set it manually. As I am getting back into it slowly I am allowing the VivoFit to adjust automatically. If you don’t hit the target, the next day is a little lower. If you do hit the target, the next day is a little higher. When I’m a bit stronger, I’ll set it manually – or I may not, given my particular circumstances.

There is one thing I really like. The VivoFit has several different displays including a screen of your step count for the day, but the home screen is how many steps you need to reach ZERO. Don’t ask me why, but I like counting DOWN so much better than watching it count UP to the target!

Great for desk jockeys is the red inactivity bar. Rose didn’t like it much, Rainmaker liked it. I like it. You do notice it. When you have been inactive for one hour, the red bar appears and each fifteen minutes after that another small segment appears. Get off your butt and move around for a few minutes and the red disappears.

The fact that the screen goes across your wrist does take a little getting used to, but it works. There is a button on the side to activate the synch and to tell the device you are going to sleep (although even that can be handled with default times). And it caters for naps.

The VivoFit is not going to suit a marathon runner. But for little old ladies like me trying to stay active, it works very well. I’m hoping to start swimming again this weekend, so I’ll test out the exercise synch from MyFitnessPal back to the VivoFit.

In summary, the improvements I’d like to see relate to the software. The Garmin website is a bit slow and cumbersome and certainly not optimised for mobile devices. Both websites are a little slow. The reliability of the synch between the two apps on the phone could be improved. The ingredients of available foods in MyFitnessPal could be more accurate, but I realise they are dependent on what information is provided to them by the manufacturer.

The Vivofit gives you more than just a really cheap pedometer from K-Mart while not expecting you to fork out hundreds of dollars for functionality you will never use. If you already have an ANT+ heart rate monitor, it will likely connect to your VivoFit.

The VivoFit 2 should hit the shops any day (hence the discounted original model at Costco, no doubt).

There was no incentive received to to write this review. I just like the device.

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13 comments on “Exercising and activity tracking with VivoFit

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  3. […] you will of course know, I am using MyFitnessPal to track my food intake. Sugar is unavoidable! Every damn day I have exceeded the 5o-odd gram allowance. Sugar is in […]

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  4. I started using MyFitnessPal a few years ago. It really is a great app/website and once you get the hang of it and enter a few of your own common meals it doesn’t take up a lot of time to use. I’ll have to have a look at Vivofit to partner with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been amazed at the ease of use of MyFitnessPal – and being in IT I’m rarely amazed about anything to do with systems (except how often they seem to malfunction).

      I haven’t created any recipes or meals yet, the copy feature is all I’ve needed so far, but I’m finding it very useful.

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  5. Wow, that’s a pretty impressive write-up of how you get things to connect!

    I’ve been using MyFitnessPal for about 18 months now, and love it although figuring out how to enter my wife’s home-cooked meals can be a challenge. I find looking at the calorie count to be pretty motivating, but I’ll admit to giving myself the weekend off. Oh, and “the weekend” starts on Friday night!

    I walk to work and run at lunchtimes for RunKeeper is my activity-tracking app. But of course that means having my phone with me. RunKeeper also syncs beautifully with MyFitnessPal so I can see that if I walk to and from work and run at lunchtime then I can add about 50% to my calorie intake.

    But it’s good to read your thoughts on this, as we’ve been thinking about adding something else to the mix. Our thinking is about the Jawbone range but we’re delaying as a new one is apparently in the works. The main reason for me is something to track my sleep – I’m a poor sleeper and would really like some insights into that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was nothing on TV tonight! Hence the #longreads event.

      Here is a review of just about everything on the market – the MisFit Shine is rated best for sleep. http://www.wareable.com/fitness-trackers/the-best-fitness-tracker

      I didn’t need anything fancy, and I’m sure a lot of people don’t. A co-worker has a FitBit but it has to be charged. She was saying this morning she thought she’d charge it while she was in the shower – and then forgot to put it back on. No tracking today for her.

      The ones that clip onto belts or bras tend to have a limited life as the clips eventually give out, although newer materials may help, less brittle.

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      • The ‘wearable’ factor is another issue. If it’s something I have to remember to clip on or put somewhere separately, then I’ll probably forget about it. But if I wear a watch on one wrist, then I don’t want a similar looking device on the other (yes, I care about style! No, not really…).

        As a bit f a gadget freak, I think I will hold out until the Apple Watch is released – I want to read some real world reviews to see how well it integrates with my other gadgets and my life. Yes, I know it will be expensive but probably not much more than my current Pebble smartwatch cost plus a dedicated fitness tracker.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, well, I was just thinking – if I added $50 to the total I’ve sent on the PoolMate and the VivoFit, I could have got the VivoActive and had everything. But I don’t much like the look of it really.

        I wear a gold bangle on my other wrist. I have different coloured bands – the Costco special included three additional bands, so I have black, dark grey and of all colours, red. I don’t think I have one red thing in my wardrobe!

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      • The VivoFit 2 looks interesting too. http://www.wareable.com/garmin/garmin-vivofit-2-price-release-date-specs-guide-661 Has backlight now and fancy straps that will fit my original version.

        They say:

        What’s new for the Vivofit 2 is audible alerts when you’ve been sitting on your bum for too long, timed activity workouts with the new stopwatch feature and a handy backlight to make it easier to see in the dark.

        Like the original, your data is synced with the Garmin Connect app and, great news – the 1-year battery life and 50m water resistance is still included.

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