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Keeping active if you have chronic conditions

Chronic conditions can strike at any age. For some conditions, such as the arthritis family, exercise is vital. Yet one can easily over do it and crash the next day. I was faced with strict instructions to manage my weight (while taking a steroid – huh!) and exercise. But stop if it hurts. Don’t over do it. Balancing exercise and rest becomes a new skill to be developed!

Yes, I’ve joined the VivoFit crowd. I mentioned this the other day in passing in an article I wrote about learning to live with a chronic health condition (its a bit of a learning curve). 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. I done a little research beforehand and I knew this was about the cheapest I was going to get.

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. Not to say there aren’t other equally great devices out there, but for people in my situation we want something that meets our limited needs. 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. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever be back at heart rate monitor stage, but one can hope!

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. It has made me VERY aware, one could say overly aware, of my daily sugar intake. So much so I have subsequently had a bit of a rant about avoiding sugar – or at least avoiding ingesting too much of the stuff.

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 duration 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

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

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

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 ventured back into the pool this weekend, and testing out the exercise synch from MyFitnessPal back to the VivoFit. It works well. Sadly I managed a whole twenty-four laps, not my 100 lap sessions of the GCC.

In summary, the improvements I’d like to see relate to the software. Both websites are a little slow, plus the Garmin Connect website is a bit cumbersome and certainly not optimised for mobile devices. 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. However, the apps are free, so how much can we really complain? Not much, I suggest!

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) and rumour has it, it will have fancy designer bands available that will also fit the original device.

There was no incentive received to to write this review. I just like the device and thought my experience maybe helpful to others in a similar situation to myself.

For reviews of many fitness trackers for 2015, visit Best Fitness Trackers 2015.

This is an edited version of an article was originally published on Robyn’s blog as Exercising and activity tracking with VivoFit.

10 comments

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  1. PennTCJ

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this article as such, but the title is extremely misleading.
    Not to mention, these are activities that are well beyond the capabilities of many people with chronic conditions (which is to say nothing for the insecurities and discomfort that can build up as a result of that). I am tossing up whether to go back and try to read more, but it’s really hard to get past the insensitivity.

  2. Annie B

    @Robyn …

    Um ? … I am a little confused by this article. While it is well written, and has a distinct message of fitness and better well-being throughout, there came a stage when I asked myself ” is Robyn specifically promoting this Vivofit device ( in particular ) ? ” …. I continued reading and found you have explained, at the end – there was no incentive to write this review, other than you like the device (s) – and wanted to pass on the information to those who might like to, or be able to, avail themselves of them.

    There are ( as PennTCJ pointed out ) … people who have chronic illnesses, for which these devices would be beyond their capabilities. And also, there are people who have chronic disabilities, who would prefer to make up their own regimes, without noting every tiny thing they do every day – which would be very time consuming, and thus reduce the time they have to complete certain tasks / exercises at an obviously slower rate ( slowing down measurably, is one of the results of chronic illness and / or disability, and aging ). … This could be very deflating and depressing, as they could end up feeling ‘controlled’ by devices. …. Not something I personally would like to contemplate. … I did not however, find any insensitivity in your article.

    The items are reasonably expensive I have found from research. Many people with disabilities ( I am one ) are pensioners as well, and could not afford these devices.

    The subject of chronic illness / disability has a vastly wide scope, with so very many variations.

    I am however, delighted to know that something has helped you so much … but, it could not be for everyone. … I believe each has to find their own way of coping with disability, chronic illness, weakness, and the resulting ( often ) despondency. …. That may be with ( or without ) the help of doctors. … and / or medication.

    And I am thankful that you put forward a possibility for those who can use this information to their advantage

    … … …

    A kind thought on your part.

  3. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Penn, I am sorry you feel I was insensitive. If you don’t mind me saying so, that is a little like a white person telling a black person what is appropriate to view as racism. As Annie points out, chronic conditions are a very wide spectrum and those of us who don’t look sick on the outside struggle.

    When I was participating in the GCC, there was a fellow participant who was doing it on walking sticks, awaiting replacement of both hips. I was on crutches and had to find some way other than walking to keep participating. I turned to swimming (which I had not done for years). As a result of my sharing on their community board my experience, this lady in Canada took up swimming lessons. She hadn’t thought of swimming before she saw me writing about it.

    There isn’t a lot out there about how to cope with the restrictions we find ourselves facing. What is out there tends to be for those patients towards to more severe end of the spectrum. If we take action as early as possible, then we have a better chance of managing our condition. No, this doesn’t apply to all conditions, but it does apply to many. Are you suggesting we just give up? Of course you aren’t. Admittedly readers who read my web site have the contextual advantage of all the articles of my charting my journey so far, which would tend to put this article in a different frame.

    My doctor says “get exercise, make sure you control your weight” but really no hints or ideas about HOW to go about doing that. The physiotherapists place restrictions on activity levels, your own body won’t do what you could do six months ago. And we struggle emotionally and psychologically with that adjustment.

    Insensitive? I disagree. Not everyone with a chronic condition is going to find my words useful, but we all start down this path at the starting point and I believe most of us want to delay the speed with which we travel this path if we can.

    I specifically changed the title from the version I originally published because I really was writing for people like me, people in my position, and the original title didn’t make that clear.

  4. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Thanks Annie. I am sorry if it didn’t come across quite as I intended and yes I recognise those unable to work or on disability pensions may not be able to afford some of these devices (remember I got mine on special and that was the only way I could afford it) but many of us are trying to keep well enough to keep our jobs. As I said to Penn, chronic conditions are a spectrum and we all start somewhere.

    I did myself think it sounded a little like an “infomercial” but I couldn’t think of any other way to write other than sticking to the facts. You will notice my response to Penn about the challenges we face is the HOW to follow the doctors’ advice (yes, doctors plural). I related the story of my fellow competitor in the GCC who took up swimming because of what I was writing at the time.

    There is also the possibility of family members and friends. Quite often they have no idea how they can offer practical assistance to a patient. Perhaps providing the patient with a Christmas or birthday present is one thing they could do. The apps I was talking about are 100% free, so no increase in profit there!

    I’m glad to see you didn’t think I was insensitive.

    I’d like to address your comment about feeling “controlled by devices”. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I find measuring works for me. In business we have a saying, “what gets measured, gets done”. I believe it is the same with ourselves. It doesn’t matter what your target is to keep moving, or to keep exercising those muscles (important in my case), but it can be very easy to not realise you’ve been inactive for an hour. I do my walking in five or ten minute bursts throughout the day: keeping track helps me immensely. Food is the same. I am a comfort food eater. As you will know, being restricted by medical conditions can be depressing – I need the reminder of “don’t eat anything else today!” to stay on track. I’ve lost 3 kilograms since I started this regime.

    No, not possible for everyone, no, not appropriate for everyone. But for those of us in the early stages looking to find ways to manage our conditions, I think others’ experiences are helpful. We can cut and paste to suit our own circumstances. We can’t not speak about the needs of the people across the whole spectrum of disability because if we do we are not helping the ones in the early stages.

    I know I am fighting a battle I will ultimately lose, Annie. But in the meantime I am going to do everything in my power to ensure I manage this condition as best I can. I encourage others at my stage to do the same. Don’t give up.

  5. DanDark

    Robyn even if your article helps one person that’s a good thing, I read it but I don’t have any chronic illnesses yet
    so didn’t feel I could comment on the matter, but I find your articles interesting and well researched 🙂

  6. diannaart

    I fully concur with PennTCJ & Annie B

    While it is excellent to see such articles at AIM; for the chronically disabled the advice is not for everyone.

  7. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Thank you Dan. I’ve stopped into the GCC community to say “Hi”. Sadly I won’t be managing it this year. 🙁

  8. Dandark

    Robyn I look at it like this……”When one door closes, another door opens”
    things we look at as a loss in life, are an end to that chapter of life for a reason
    and we then move on to the next chapter with hope in our heart that things will be ok
    fearing the new/next chapter just delays it 🙂

  9. Annie B

    @ Robyn …

    I have had a long and searching read at your “Team Oyeniyi – Love versus Goliath ” website / blog, and I applaud completely your want to impart positives to those who might need assistance with whatever ails them. … the Canadian lady who took up swimming for example. You helped her – good onya for that. …. There is NEVER anything wrong with putting forward possibilities for improvement – in anything.

    Your story is quite extraordinary, outlining the tragedies you have endured, and the fears for your husband, because of the Goliath of red tape and utterly ineffectual Government handling of your situation. … Your “Team Oyeniyi ” is an inspiration. … I do hope you continue with it. …. and continue your writing which is excellent.

    ……..

    I think I covered most of my considerations in my first post. …. but would like to add a little something.

    I find the weekly, ( sometimes more often ), ‘interference’ from mainstream media – in their alleged attempts to persuade or even ‘ frighten ‘ ailing or potentially ailing people into submission to do ( or not do ) a, b, c. etc., quite nauseating – and it makes me very angry. … I only add this observation to make a point, that being there is sooo much information to contend with – even in the news ?. … It can literally become information overload. …. I have the feeling you would agree with me, on that.

    As an example, just tonight on the channel 9 news ( Victoria ) … it was stated that 5 + cups of coffee per day can help allay the risks of many nasties – ( cannot recall the list now ) … but on research, I found it is currently the ‘order of the day’ ….. …. yet some time back – maybe 12 months or more, coffee was considered BAD for ones’ health – overall. … so I said to my husband ” ( p f f t – in 12 months time, coffee will again be rotten for health, just wait and see “

    I believe that instinct plays a huge role in bettering health, or maintaining health – and my two cents worth is that everyone should get in touch with their innermost feelings and ‘knowledge’ about what is, or is not – good for them. …. it’s not easy, and would not sit well with some. …. I find my inner peace ( which does escape me at times admittedly – depending on situations at the time ) and my instinct – to be my saving graces. …. There is much more I could add, but will leave it at this for the moment.

    Cheers …….

    ….

  10. Robyn Oyeniyi

    Annie – sorry for the late response – I’ve been a bit “off” the last few days – it happens. One son brought a nasty bug home and down I went.

    I can understand your perspective. The coffee thing amazes me. I remember when eggs were going to kill us at one stage and now we are all OK to eat eggs again. Nothing is so constant as change and that includes health recommendations.

    I found there wasn’t much about to give me any guidance as to HOW to follow the doctors’ instructions. I just worked out what works for me and hoped it might help others who found themselves in the same position as I found myself.

    I’ve written a piece over the last few days on “Tough Cookie Syndrome” – I’ve decided it is a medical condition all by itself!

    Thank you for your kind words re my writing. I do think looking back over my life stress may be a very likely cause of my auto-immune condition/(s), but really, it can’t be proven. All I can do it move forward and try to manage it as best as I can.

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