A year ago we were getting ready to make the long pilgrimage to visit family in California. And when you live abroad, one of the things you tend to do before heading “home” for a visit is make that list of things you can only get there. I am not one of those people who brings home suitcases full of mac & cheese, peanut butter and chocolate chips. We usually only travel with carry-ons anyway, or at most one check-in to share among us. So whatever we bring home has to be small. Last year for me it was my own set of Thinx (which I am still loving every month, but don’t feel like writing a post about my period at the moment) and a Bellabeat Leaf, which I am still loving every single day. (At the time, Bellabeats weren’t available in the Netherlands, but it looks like they’ve now reestablished availability here as well. Yay!)
I had been thinking about getting a fitness tracker for awhile. After all, who hasn’t been at least thinking about it? Even if the research on such trackers hasn’t exactly demonstrated dramatic health benefits, it still feels like having all that data at your fingertips must be helpful.
The variety of health trackers available seems to be more bewildering each year, so I tried to go into my search with a clear idea of what I was looking for to avoid being dazzled by bells and whistles I would never use. I certainly didn’t need another demanding screen to actually attach to my body, so a smartwatch was out. And I wanted something I would like wearing, and that I could wear all the time–to work and to an evening out as well as to the gym.
Because actually, I don’t really even go to the gym. I do yoga a couple of times a week, take my dog on a brisk hour-long walk every day, and get around town by bicycle or walking. I am not an athlete, although in general I think I do a healthy amount of physical activity (more on that later). So I didn’t need any particularly advanced features like GPS tracking or automatic workout recognition.
What I am is a rather anxious person who sometimes suffers from insomnia as a result. So I was hoping for a health tracker that would help me balance my life and remember to do the most important stuff to keep myself sane and happy: sleep, exercise, and meditate. I wanted a tracker with a nicely-designed app that kept those things together. And of course it would be great if it tracked my period so I wouldn’t need a separate app for that.
Enter, of course, the Bellabeat, which arrived in California before me, in eminently instagrammable form.
The founder of the company is a sculptor, and I think it kind of shows. I get a lot of compliments on it when I wear it, which is always, because it is so pretty and versatile. In the summer I like to wear it with the included silicone wrap bracelet (in the photo above) or this after-market leather one I found on Etsy.
In winter I tend to wear it more as a necklace on the (also included) chain.
It also clips onto clothing, so at night I wear it clipped onto my pajama top. While I do yoga I wear it on the waistband of my yoga pants, which is also the place to wear it if you want it to track your breathing during the meditations and breathing exercises.
The Bellabeat App
One of the things that attracted me to the Bellabeat was that the app includes its own library of guided meditations. But I am easily annoyed by the wrong sort of guided meditation; when I was pregnant and taking hypnobirthing classes I rewrote the provided script and had Tony record it to music of my choice, because I couldn’t stand the original recording.
So before I invested in the actual tracker I downloaded the app to try out some of the meditations. Turns out I really like them. There is enough of a choice that I don’t get bored, but not so many that I haven’t tried almost all of them by now. Some are guided, others are just music or ambient sound. They cover everything from anxiety to sleep to menstrual cramps to inner peace to loving-kindness. In fact, even if you’re not interested in the device, and all you want is a free meditation app without annoying ads or premium upsells, I totally recommend it.
It turns out that even though I love my pretty Bellabeat Leaf, one of my favourite things about it is the app. It tracks activity, sleep, water intake (manually, or you can buy their smart water bottle), meditation, and menstrual cycle (also manual, because, yeah). All of these are presented as circles of different colours on the main screen (on the right below). You can click on any one of them (as I’ve done for sleep here, on the left) and get a more in-depth analysis.
Then it runs the data through an algorithm to give you a “Stress Sensitivity” score. It’s all pretty simple, but I think that’s what I like about it. I can see everything at a glance on-screen, and it is easy for me to know what I can do right now to make myself feel a little better. For example, if I know I didn’t get quite enough sleep, maybe I can do a meditation session, or take Lyra on an extra walk to bring my stress down to a manageable level. In theory, I kind of know these things anyway. But in the day-to-day of life, I don’t always have the presence of mind to immediately identify why I am unusually stressed, or what I can do to fix it in the moment. It’s so helpful to have actual data right there at my fingertips, along with what to do to balance things out.
And I have to say, it’s nice to use the much-maligned digital endorphin bump to do something actually useful. Now accomplishing a health goal gives me the same instant gratification as an Instagram like. It’s like magic.
Can I also say about the app that they’ve given some thought to making the whole thing relaxing and pleasing to the eye? From colour and symbology to the simple layout (and yes, the friendly reminders and encouragements), every time I open the app I feel good. And as someone who has struggled with disordered eating and really tries to avoid triggers, I wholeheartedly appreciate the fact that nowhere is Bellabeat trying to get me to think about calories.
Does Bellabeat Work as a Health Tracker?
I have read a few different studies concluding that health trackers tend not to measurably affect people’s health or fitness. So while I hoped to improve especially my mental health just by being more aware, I was sceptical that wearing a health tracker would actually induce me to–for instance–take more steps per day. By design, Bellabeat is very much an in-the-present-moment device. It bases your current stress sensitivity score on the past week and doesn’t show long-term data. It does, however, plug straight into Apple Health (and whatever is the Google equivalent). So just for fun as I was writing this post, I took a look at my step count last year vs. the year before I got my Bellabeat. I was surprised to find that it has actually improved quite a lot. Who knew?
I do notice that I am pretty motivated to get in my hour of physical activity per day and close that yellow circle. Similarly, I have probably meditated more in the past year than in the previous ten years combined. I am more aware of how my sleep (or lack thereof) affects my mood, and seeing at a glance that I’ve stayed up late the past few nights is often enough of a nudge to get me to go to bed early tonight (and keep my sleep average up above 7 hours per night). And it is a very rare day now that I don’t swallow at least my recommended 2.2 litres of water. I have always been a bit of an anxious overachiever, and knowing that I am ticking off these various boxes perfectly every day is ridiculously satisfying to me. Even if I continue to be a general stress case, seeing that I have gotten my Bellabeat stress sensitivity score down to 4% makes me feel like I have accomplished something. That’s got to be a good thing, right? Right???
It helps that my Bellabeat never needs to be charged; it runs on a replaceable coin-cell battery. I’ve changed it only twice in the past year, so I can confirm that the 4-6 month battery life figure is correct. Thanks to how low maintenance it is, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve forgotten to wear it (either day or night), which I think impacts the effectiveness quite a bit.
In short, it may be due at least partially to my obsessive personality, but for me having a Bellabeat health tracker has helped me exercise and meditate more, get better sleep, and drink more water. Which makes me super curious about other people’s experiences with health trackers. If you’ve had one for awhile, do you still wear it every day? Has it improved your fitness? How about your physical/mental health? What do you care most about: sleep? steps? activity? something else? Does it keep you accountable? Is having measurable daily health goals motivating or depressing?