If you have read articles from my Walking America Series, you know that I use FitBit to track my steps each day. Recently, though, a new website came to my attention: SlimKicker.com. It is similar to websites like MyFitnessPal.com and FitBit’s website, which are built on the idea that if we track what we eat and how active we are, we have a better chance at achieving our diet and fitness goals.
The difference in SlimKicker seems to be that they offer “points” for each activity. Eat a serving of veggies? That’s a point (or more). Walk for 30 minutes? That’s 30 points. Add up the points and you make it to a new level. Make it to a new level and you’ll be reminded to reward yourself with something you choose as rewarding. For example, my first reward will be to buy myself some new traveling shoes for fall. Once I hit Category 2, boots, here I come!
You can also set up challenges for yourself, friends who join SlimKicker, or people you meet through the site who want to take the same challenge. From everything I can gather, it is meant to make dieting and exercise like a game.
The idea of it sounds like a lot of fun. In the first evening I got excited by the number of points I racked up in a day. I will admit, though, that having to upload all my info and track all my food in order to get these points is a bit tedious, especially given that these days I’m in Maintenance Mode and not actually striving to lose weight or run a marathon.
So, that’s where you come in. I’d like to hear from you and know what your experiences are with SlimKicker.com. Have you used their website before? If so, for how long?
Drop me a comment in the section below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll compile the responses into an article, giving you credit for the information you provided, and share it with the rest of my readers.
The FitBit Ultra wireless tracker is one of the ways a walking traveler can keep up with their steps each day. Personally, I chose this tracker because it is the easiest for me to use. I am absent-minded when it comes to these things and with the FitBit I rarely have to think about it. Every time I take a walking tour, climb a set of stairs, or walk more quickly from one place to another, that information gets wirelessly uploaded onto my FitBit Ultra Dashboard, which is then available to me online. If I want to keep track of calories, blood pressure, or glucose, I can add that information onto my dashboard as well.
Since having mentioned the FitBit in previous articles, I have received several questions about traveling with it. Below are four tips for traveling with this fitness tracker.
1. Remove the FitBit when going through Security at the airport.
While you can take your FitBit on an airplane, you must remove it, along with pretty much every other accessory, when you go through Security. I tend to clip it on my shirt the day of travel so I have more chance of remembering to take it off. The one time I forgot to remove it, it was visible to the Security official who reminded me to take it off before I got to the scanner. Because it was known to the officials, it wasn’t any trouble to remove it, stick it into the plastic bin with my shoes, and walk on through Security. Hubby uses the belt holster, so he takes off the whole kit and caboodle–belt, FitBit and holster–to put into a plastic bin before walking through the scanner.
2. Don’t forget to pack your base charging station.
Hubby and I take our computers with us when we travel, so we take one charger, plug it into a USB port, and take turns charging our FitBits whenever they start to get low on juice. I tend to be lazier about it than Hubby, so I charge mine about every two weeks, or when the website tells me the battery is low. This also uploads all the information to the FitBit website, in case I haven’t come near the base charging station in a while.
3. Don’t get FitBit wet!
FitBit is not waterproof and, according to friends of ours who have tested the theory, swimming with the FitBit will kill it. Another friend accidentally washed her FitBit and it died soon after. Just like with swimming, a dunk in the washer will destroy it.
According to the FitBit website, heavy sweat can also impact it, so when you know you’re taking a long walking tour on the hottest day of the year, be sure to wear your FitBit somewhere on the outside part of your clothes, not up against your skin. Hubby’s favorite place to keep his FitBit is on the belt holster that came in the box. My favorite place is on a pocket on my shorts or skirt. If I don’t have pockets, I attach it to the neck of my shirt.
4. Change the time zone when you travel–or not!
The FitBit tracker does not automatically change the time zone when you travel because it doesn’t have a geographic tracker built into it. If you want to make sure your FitBit is on the same zone as you are, be sure to log in to your FitBit Dashboard and tell it where you are. Hubby actually likes not changing the time zone when we travel within the United States or Canada because he says it gives him extra time each day to get in his steps when we travel to the East Coast from the West. For example, if his FitBit is set to Arizona time but he is in New York, that means that when it is midnight in New York, it is only 9pm in Arizona, so he has three “bonus” hours to get his steps in if it has been a low-step day.
Hopefully these little tidbits will help you travel with your FitBit tracker. Be sure to ask any other questions you may have about it in the Comments section below. If you have your own tips for traveling with a FitBit, add those too!
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard was right, you know. Since incorporating walking into our daily routine a year and a half ago, Hubby and I have walked ourselves to health. Not only are we free from medicines related to high cholesterol and diabetes, walking changed the way we see our sprawling suburb and the way we plan our trips.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of walking five miles on a treadmill or hiking around a track over and over again has absolutely zero appeal. Combine those walks, though, with stuff I have to do anyway and, not only do we get our exercise, we get that other stuff done at the same time. Plus–and this is a bigger deal than I would ever have imagined before–we connect to the bigger world, experience the seasons, discover local art and artists, and meet new people because of it. Much to our surprise, incorporating walking into our regular routine really makes us happy.
Each day Hubby and I strive to walk at least 10,000 steps. This is the equivalent of five miles. Hubby tends to walk more than that each day, achieving around 13,000 steps or more on average. My average tends to hover right around 10,000 steps a day, with a few days of 12,000 and a few 9,000. In general, if we did not strive to hit this goal, each of us would average about 2,000 steps a day.
Our FitBits are a big part of keeping us focused. They track our steps and automatically update that information into a private and personalized “dashboard” on their website. We can also track what we eat and how long we sleep. All the information on our dashboard is kept private, for our use only, or to share with friends and family with whom we choose to give this information.
When we first started walking, our minds were just focused on achieving a step goal. It was a chore, something that had to be done, like taking out the garbage or cleaning the bathroom. This was something we had to do in addition to everything else we do in a day.
According to WalkScore.com, our town has a walking score of 48, which is considered car dependent. That’s exactly how we saw our town, unwalkable. We needed a car to get around and we accepted what we perceived were the limitations of suburban America. Each night, after we finished work, we drove to dinner and returned to walk on the exact same path around the exact same park over and over and over again, for an hour at a time. This is how you get healthy, I thought? It’s no wonder so many start a walking program only to get bored and drop out before they get very far.
Then we visited St. Paul, Minnesota where we stayed in a very walkable part of town, and that’s when everything changed. We started walking to a coffee shop about a quarter of a mile from where we were staying. Each night we walked to dinner and we took near-daily jaunts to a neighborhood market for groceries. Returning to Arizona, we figured, if we could walk St. Paul, why couldn’t we walk suburbia too?
Using Google Maps and the Maps App on our iPhones, we started to check out what was nearby and how to get there on foot. At first, a mile seemed too far to walk anywhere, so we started slow. We walked to the bank, about a half a mile away, or 10 minutes one-way. Little by little, we became a more adventurous. We added a daily coffee break at Dutch Bros., about a mile away (or 15 minutes). Not only were we getting a total of 4,000 steps with that trip, we were getting one of my favorite rewards: coffee! (And if you know me at all, you know I love coffee.)
Everything went along great for a while, until one day we had to work a little later than usual and neither of us could take a break for coffee. By 6pm, we had 2,000 steps and we still had to eat dinner before we could get those other steps needed. It looked like we were going to have to walk circles around the park again.
I need to pause here to explain something. We eat out every night. At some point during Hubby’s first days dieting, he discovered that a lot of the chain restaurants not only have low-fat options on their menus, they have that information posted on their websites, so there are no surprises when we get there. Chains tend to have nutrition info located on their websites as well, or it can be found on-the-go through various iPhone apps like Dottie’s Food Score, My Fitness Pal, and WikiWeight. While we learned how to eat better, we created a routine of going to Chipotle, Chile’s, and places like those because, believe it or not, we knew we could get things there that would fit with our new, healthier eating habits.
On that particular night we still needed to eat, we needed lots more steps, and neither of us were looking forward to walking around the park a hundred times at 10pm. That’s when one of us looked up the distance from our house to Chile’s. It was 2.3 miles–the farthest we had ever walked for one of our “integration” walks.
We were hesitant at first. As strange as it sounds, it seemed impossible, really. The walk was far and it would take us down busy streets, along routes we had only ever driven before. There was even a light feeling of adolescent embarrassment–we were the only ones walking those particular sidewalks along those particular streets. We were so uncool. The reward, though, was too tempting. That walk would give us nearly 10,000 steps round trip and we would break it up with dinner!
Ever since then, we have been walking to dinner three and four times a week. We still go to Chile’s regularly, but we also visit local places I’ve written about before, like Flancer’s and the farmers market. Two-and-a-half miles one-way is pretty much our outer limit at this point because of the time it takes to get there (about half an hour to forty minutes).
Not every American suburb has access to as many sidewalks and safe paths. Rural areas like where my grandmother lives in Oklahoma are tough because of the distances it takes to get anywhere you’d want to go. Still, I can’t help wondering if some of this isn’t perception. If you had asked me a year ago if our suburb was walkable, I would have told you no and sincerely believed it.
What we have learned this last year is that almost anything is walkable, especially when there is some reward involved, even if that reward is simply checking off one more thing on the list of things to do. Admittedly, some places require more planning and street smarts than other places. When we walk the canal path near our house, for example, we clamber over the rock-laden moat of a railroad track so we can get to Flancer’s.
What I recommend to anyone interested in trying this way of integrated walking is to start out with smaller trips and add on as you feel comfortable. If possible, pick things that are actually rewarding. In my case, it was coffee. Plan ahead and take what you need to be safe and comfortable in various weather and road conditions. Backpacks and cross-body bags are best for carrying things you might need. When we go to the farmers market, for example, I pack an insulated bag with a couple of bottles of water. As we drink the water on the trip there, we make room for our purchases at the market. Of course, no matter where you go, always pay attention to the traffic around you and navigate accordingly. Never assume a driver sees you.
Even with a certain amount of danger, this adventure of ours makes us happy. I have discovered, as Kierkegaard did, that I am happiest when I do not have to rely on a car to get places. I hate having to scope out and pay for parking. And we all know gas prices aren’t getting any lower. There are ways to walk and be safe, even in suburban America. Just be sure to remember your pedometer and wear comfy shoes.
For more inspiration on incorporating walking into your daily life, visit these websites:
Every Body Walk! is an “online educational campaign aimed at getting Americans up and moving. Through the help of our partners, we are working to spread the message that walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week really can improve your overall health and prevent disease. We provide news and resources on walking, health information, walking maps, how to find walking groups, a personal pledge form to start walking, as well as a place to share stories about individual experiences with walking.”
America’s Walking is a show on PBS which “highlights great walking destinations across the country, provides advice on food and nutrition, presents tips on the best fitness apparel, and features the inspirational stories of individuals who have seen their lives transformed by simply walking.”
Nearly two years ago, my husband decided to lose weight. He was bordering 300 pounds at the time and his doctor was warning him of the oncoming signs of diabetes. He was already taking medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So, when the conversation turned to preventative medication for diabetes, Hubby set his mind to make some major changes. And when my husband decides to do something, he jumps in with both feet and doesn’t look back. So, in October of 2010, we both went on Weight Watchers and started tracking how many steps we were taking each day with a FitBit pedometer.
Hubby lost nearly 120 pounds from October of 2010 to June of 2011. I lost 20 pounds total. Since then, he has been freed from all the medication he had been taking before for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and he never had to take the diabetes preventative. There are no signs of diabetes anywhere.
As you can imagine, a great part of the change is owed to his weight loss and his food choices, but it also can’t be denied that walking has made a huge difference as well. It helps keep the weight off, it gives the heart a good workout, and it makes it so he can enjoy extras like beer and chocolate on a daily basis.
These days we walk at least 5 miles a day. Hubby usually walks more than that. He’s far more disciplined than I am. I peter out once I hit my step goal of 10,000 steps and some days I don’t even make it to that. Still, for both of us, walking has changed our lives and the way we travel.
Travel is now planned with walking in mind. We choose hotels and vacation rentals that are located in the heart of a walkable city or, as is the case with our home in suburban Phoenix, we figure out ways to incorporate walks into our lives without living life on a treadmill or circular track. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing where these walks have taken us, and how they’ve changed our lives, as we explore North America on foot.