Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair:

Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair

So many to chose from, all with good and bad points.

Being in a wheelchair, exercise isn’t as easy as ‘popping’ to the gym and using the treadmill, or going for a morning run. Because the lives of wheelchair users are more sedentary than the average office worker, who at least walk to the car/toilet/lunch, we have to make a bit more of an effort at it. Or so I thought.

Motivation to track my steps:

In an effort to help my wife in her battle in losing weight, I decided to get us an activity tracker for Christmas. I spent two weeks looking into the different types of devices on the market which included the Fitbit family of devices (Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Force), the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse.  Each device had advantages and disadvantages. My thoughts of the best suitable trackers for me was:

  • A wrist mounted devices so that I’m less likely to lose it.
  • Be able to track my sleep, steps and calories burnt.
  • Connect with the other fitness apps I use.
  • The ability to connect to my phone to sync data and view stats.

In all my research, I couldn’t find any blog post, article or even forum post on all the fitness forums about the use of an activity tracker, like the ones mentioned above, in a wheelchair. The whole ‘raison d’ étre’ for an activity tracker is to track steps, which obviously not something I do a lot of. I can just about hobble around the flat on a good day, but anything beyond my front door is achieved using a wheelchair or mobility scooter. I sent Fitbit, Jawbone and Withings an email asking if it was any use in me buying a device being that I would be in a wheelchair most of the time. Only Fitbit had the decency to reply. Although written from a heavily marketing point of view, they did say that although the device is designed to be to track steps, it would give a reasonable measure of activity, allowing for a slightly larger margin of error than for walking. They reassured me that they were trying their best to make it as compatible with wheelchair users and would work on getting the margin of error down to a more acceptable level. I’d like to think this series of posts will help and maybe encourage other wheelchair or disabled readers to buy a tracker to stay fit and healthy.

Final decision:

After many hours reading all the reviews, comparisons and walk-through, I decided that as this was going to be a present for both me and my wife, I had to ask for her advice, despite ‘ruining’ the surprise.

We both decided that if we were going to get one, we ought to get the same one for compatibility. There wouldn’t be much point in me getting a different device as we wouldn’t be able to link up and compare stats. Lorna looked through all the devices I suggested, and we decided to get the Fitbit Flex tracker.


I can almost hear people making comments saying something like “Why don’t you use [xyz] app which will track your steps, and [xyz] to track your sleep?” or “Wouldn’t a pedometer be cheaper?”. Here is my answer to those comments.

The point of using a wristband format and not a clip on at the waist device is simple: I’m very forgetful, and sooner or later, it would end up in the wash. There are plenty of posts on the internet about people who have forgotten to take off their tracker from their trousers/bra/shirt, and it ends up in the wash. 7 times out of 10, the device is unusable, and they need to buy a new one. Pedometers are no more reliable than the wristband. Most cheap ones can be given a shake, and they add ten steps. Plus, when in the wheelchair, pushing myself along, the pedometer or clip on tracker is less likely to pick up the movement, where as being attached to my arm which is pushing the wheels to get around, it records the activity.

With regards to using phone based apps to track my sleep and steps, I’ve tried them. The step based apps usually do ok, as long as the device is in my pocket. But often, when I’m sitting round at home, it’s on the table, or on the sofa or (more often than not) being charged. Something attached to my wrist is always there, just like my watch.
The phone based sleep tracking apps are usually unsatisfactory because they rely on you having the phone placed on the mattress, and it records the vibration and noise. The problem is, I often move round in my sleep, and will knock the phone off the mattress, therefore rendering the stats null. Furthermore, it means that the phone has to be on and charging all night, which makes it hotter and it’s not recommended to have it under the pillow, which would secure it.

Stay tuned…

This is only the first of many posts to do with the Fitbit use in a wheelchair. I urge you, should you come across this in months to come without a recent update, to send me a message or comment asking for an update, and I will do so ASAP.

Next up: My thoughts on the Fitbit dashboard and phone apps