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While the Fitbit Ionic is the flagship, the new Fitbit Versa is likely a better fit for the masses. At $200, it is a wearable that everyone should consider as a way to understand all of the details of your daily life while also motivating you to make healthy choices.
It lacks GPS, but still has a number of fitness features that will help you track your activity, understand the details of your resting and active heart rate, record data during specific exercise sessions, learn about and practice breathing to reduce stress, study the details of your evening sleep stages, and challenge friends and family to move more.
The Fitbit Versa will also be one of the best devices for women when the female health features launch soon.
At its core, the Fitbit Versa is an activity tracker that will use its 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, and altimeter to count your steps, calculate the distance you covered, estimate the number of calories you burned, categorize your active as active minutes, and compute how many flights of stairs you have climbed (sorry, going down the stairs does not help you reach your goal).
For each of these metrics, you can set custom goals in the smartphone app or on the dashboard of the Fitbit website. There is also an option to have an hourly activity goal of 250 steps that can be selected to remind you to walk for periods from five to 14 consecutive hours. This hourly goal is great for those working in an office that need a reminder to step away from the desk and walk around a bit.
Another element of your daily activity tracking, also very relevant to the state of your fitness, is heart rate tracking. The Fitbit Versa has Fitbit’s latest PurePulse heart rate tracking technology that is used for continuous heart rate monitoring to improve calorie burn estimates, provide you with valuable resting heart rate information, optimize your exercise routines, and guide you best through breathing exercises.
Many exercises do not involve steps so it is important to measure your changing heart rate during these exercises, spinning for example, in order to calculate a more accurate calories burned metric.
Heart rate measurement during exercise makes sure you maintain the right intensity during those workouts to help you achieve your goals while also preventing you from overtraining. Maintaining your heart rate in the cardio zone is great for fitness, but if you are training to burn fat then training at the cardio level is not going to help you reach your weight goal. It is important to understand how heart rate affects your fitness and goals so thankfully the Fitbit Versa is built to provide this data measurement in an accurate manner.
Your resting heart rate is best calculated when you wear your Fitbit Versa 24/7. Wearing it at night when you are asleep, and your heart rate is lowest, will help Fitbit’s algorithms estimate a true resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is not usually your lowest heart rate, but a measure of a typical calm, comfortable, awake condition. A measure of 60-80 is generally a good measure, but it can also vary quite a bit. My own resting heart rate varies between 44 to 48 beats per minute, but I have always had a rather slow rate and am in the middle of training for another half marathon.
In order to establish heart rate training zones, Fitbit calculates a maximum heart rate with the common formula of 220 minus your age. You can also setup a custom max heart rate if you are targeting a specific training zone.
You can select up to seven exercise shortcuts to appear on your Fitbit Versa from a list of These exercises include run, bike, hike, golf, elliptical, workout, martial arts, kickboxing, pilates, yoga, stairclimber, treadmill, walk, weights, tennis, boot camp, spinning, interval workout, swim, and circuit training.
Within each of the exercise modes, you can toggle on GPS (remember, the Versa does not have integrated GPS so this data will need to come from a connected smartphone) and also customize the stats for the three rows that appear on the display after you select Go to start your exercise session. Available stats are dependent on the exercise mode and may include elapsed time, heart rate, calories burned, time of day, lap time, distance, pace, average pace, steps, speed, average speed, and more.
Some exercise modes have an auto pause option (useful if you run in the city and have to cross a lot of streets with stop lights) while others have auto tracking. Fitbit employs its SmartTrak technology to track select exercises like running, biking, and walking after a customized period of time performing that activity passes, even if you do not manually start that activity on the watch. Since I walk about a mile to and from my commuter train, I turned this off for walking since I don’t need these walks appearing as workouts on my Fitbit Dashboard.
The Fitbit Versa is water resistant to 50 meters, which means you can use it to track swimming. The options for swim mode include setting the pool length so you can track laps and pace while swimming.
Every fitness tracker needs a great 7-minute workout, and this is one of the best implementations.
The Fitbit Versa also comes preloaded with Fitbit Coach and three free bodyweight exercise options. Short videos on your phone, or animations on your Versa, will show you the proper form of each exercise. These free exercises include the 7-minute workout, 10-minute Abs, and Treasure Chest.
The 7-minute workout is one of my favorites and includes 30 seconds each of jumping jacks, wall squat hold, pushups, crunches, step ups, squats, bench dips, forearm plank, high knees, lunges, side plank pushups, and forearm side planks on both sides. It is a great short session of 12 exercises with short breaks between each exercise that I like to perform after a four to six mile run.
The 10-minute Abs workout also has 12 exercises with a mix of time and reps. Each is focused on your lower core and is also a great workout to include with other exercise sessions.
For an upper body focused workout, choose the free Treasure Chest option. This exercise is setup to be completed in 20 minutes and includes 22 parts of exercise and rest. It has similar exercises to the 7-minute workout with the addition of spidermans, typewriter pushups, burpees, scorpion pushups, and more.
Stay tuned for another article taking an in-depth look at all of the options when you subscribe to Fitbit Coach premium
My wife is now serving as the caregiver for her aunt who has pancreatic cancer and over the past week has been quite anxious thinking about the future of her aunt. I had her put on the Fitbit Versa and try out the guided breathing utility. She immediately showed signs of calming down and I could see the anxiousness leave her face.
Guided breathing was launched on Fitbit devices in 2016 and is present as an app, called Relax, on the Fitbit Versa. It is something that you may just ignore or even remove as an app, but I would like to encourage you to give it an honest test for a week or so. As I mentioned earlier, it is powered by the PurePulse heart rate technology too.
You can choose to perform a session for two or five minutes with two minutes serving as the default. Vibration can be toggle on or off to help you through the inhale and exhale routine without having to watch the expanding and contracting circle.
I enjoy running and cycling, but over the years I discovered that one of the most important elements of a healthy lifestyle and the potential to improve your fitness is sleeping. This is one area that Apple has not yet explored with the Apple Watch and one area where Fitbit beats all other wearables with its advanced sleep tracking algorithms.
Fitbit’s new sleep stages track the time you spend awake, in light sleep, in deep sleep, and in the REM (rapid eye movement) stages of sleep. The PurePulse heart rate technology and motion detectors help define these four stages of your sleep and I am personally fascinated by waking up and viewing these stages.
I find that such detailed tracking and attractive presentation actually motivates me to go to sleep earlier and thus reach my sleep goals. My sleep time has definitely increased thanks to Fitbit’s reminders and my understanding that sleep is a vital part of overall fitness.
The great thing about the Fitbit Versa is that it is very lightweight and you can hardly tell you are wearing it. This, combined with the fact that sleep tracking is performed automatically, makes it an excellent accessory to wear every night. You can also set a silent alarm so that your partner isn’t blasted out of bed when your phone loudly blares your annoying alarm.
Sleep results and insights show your stage time for the day, compared to the last 30 days, and benchmarks for men or women of your age.
Fitbit has been rather successful over the years in large part due to the ecosystem of users. There is a vast Fitbit community and within the Fitbit app you can join groups that interest you, view your friends’ weekly activity and see where you fall on the leaderboard, and even view a feed full of Fitbit users that has a similar look and feel to an Instagram feed.
In addition to the community, there are adventure races, friends and family challenges, and solo adventures that you can compete in to help motivate you to move. Most of these challenge events are focused on daily step counts, but if you are looking for ways to motivate you to get out and move then you may want to challenge your family to a daily showdown.
As a father of three daughters who has been married to my lovely wife for 25 years, I am quite familiar with the importance of tracking female health stats. Fitbit will soon be launching support for tracking menstrual cycles and comparing this health data against all the rest of the metrics that the Versa is tracking. My oldest daughter is a Fitbit user and I look forward to hearing more about the performance of this unique aspect of the Fitbit ecosystem.