THE FEED: Getting healthy with a FitBit

The Feed was my regular column for employees of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system about how the synthesis of health care and social media can influence all of us—employees, patients and the community—for the better.

I dusted off my FitBit, realigned my goals, and decided that if I didn’t make an effort, nothing would change.

I dusted off my FitBit, realigned my goals, and decided that if I didn’t make an effort, nothing would change.

I have a FitBit. It’s a little black clippy thing that sticks to your belt and records your steps taken, stairs climbed, miles walked and calories burned throughout the day.

A lot of people have FitBits and similar fitness gadgets. Some even know where they are; many languish in drawers. Like many others, I’ve attempted to get fit by myself. It’s just how I do things. I’ve had mine for more than a year now, and after the initial excitement of setting my fitness goals, I admit that I’ve fallen woefully short.

My motivations

Photo: Mark Washburn

Photo: Mark Washburn

  1. I have a really bad back. I need to get stronger, and lose 25 pounds to be at my healthiest weight. (I blame it entirely on childbirth. Can I do that? It was six years ago. There isn’t a statute of limitations or anything, is there?)

  2. I am getting married in May, and oddly find myself more motivated than ever to address #1.

Recently, I dusted off my lonely (and still awesome) little FitBit, realigned my goals, and decided that if I didn’t make an effort, nothing would change.

When my fiancé, who works at Dartmouth College, told me about a community that college employees can join (I’ve bought one for him, so now he’s preaching the gospel too), I thought: Hey, we should do that here! It’ll be great to bring social media and simple technology together to help the Dartmouth-Hitchcock community achieve its best health possible. And it’ll be fun!

OK. I’ll be honest. My thinking was actually along the lines of: With so many witnesses, I can’t possibly make any more excuses. By calling the shot in public, I felt I was much less likely to fail after years of halfhearted attempts to get healthy.

So I created a group on the FitBit site for Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees to share goals, achievements, comments and problems. We’ve seen lots of our colleagues overcome their own fitness challenges and maintain their health; this is my own way of starting down the same road, and hopefully inviting some of you along for the walk.

Check it out: I'm not alone!

At first, I thought it would be hard to win over co-workers to the idea of using this odd little thing—which is why I was elated when I met Sarah Pletcher, Medical Director of the Center for Telehealth, who sees a future in which biomonitors might be an integral part of population health. Not only that, but she's collaborating with FitBit leaders to develop programs for patients. They've already completed their first two pilot projects.

Sarah isn't the only one who sees the potential in these devices at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Kristin Shaw, in the Office of the CEO, thought a fun challenge for her department would be to get FitBits and walk the equivalent of the distance to the Golden Gate Bridge, or 2,994 miles total, in seven weeks. Twenty-five of her coworkers are already underway—and depending on how they do, "We might keep going to Hawaii," she said. Along the way, they're aiming for weekly mini-achievements for the employee who's improved the most or has gone the farthest beyond the weekly average.

I'll check in with Kristin and Sarah as their stories develop.

Come on in! The water's fine.

Join our fitness community! And while it would be great for everyone to join the FitBit group, the goal here is to get going in whatever way works for you - so if you prefer another device, a simple pedometer, or nothing at all, don’t feel that you can’t be part of the movement. My point is that it is so much easier—and more fun—when we do it together. That was the lesson that it took me so many years to discover.

And if even I feel that way, you just might, too.

Talk back!

  • Does your department or group of friends have its own fitness challenge? What are your goals, and how do you keep track of them?

  • What's your vision for how we can all become healthier together?

Susanna French is the social media specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The least effective exercise she ever performed was the time she hurt her knee in ROTC boot camp and the training officer made her stand in the corner during calisthenics and yell, "I'm not doing anything, ONE, sir! I'm not doing anything, TWO, sir!"