Jason Appleby got an unpleasant wakeup call last October when the number 252 flashed up from the bathroom scale at his 5-foot, 9-inch frame.

“I’ve always been a tad husky, but I was shocked by what I saw,” said Appleby, 37, who is vice president of retail operations at Machias Savings Bank in Machias, where he has worked for 14 years, his only professional job since college. “I had an extra-large, button-up dress shirt, but I couldn’t get the top button closed.”

Like many people transitioning from single to married life, he had played soccer, ridden a bike and was fairly active until four years ago, when he met his wife and then they had twins.

“I couldn’t find time for exercise,” he said. But what he did find time for didn’t help the cause: three bottles of Mountain Dew a day and chewing tobacco.

He decided to improve his health and bought a $150 Fitbit wristband with a built-in heart rate monitor and cut out the soda and tobacco. He’s shaved off 40 pounds as he monitored how much he walked and changed his lifestyle. Being able to see the results meant a lot, he said, noting that his resting heartbeat decreased from 86 to the 60s now, and he feels much healthier.

But the real incentive came in January, when his employer bought basic model Fitbits for every employee who expressed interest in getting one, or about one-third of the 250 employees at the bank.

“We have about 81 members competing in our monthly challenges for who gets the most steps,” said Danielle Caricofe, senior vice president of human resources at the bank in Machias. All the members track their step counts on the Fitbit, which uses an accelerometer device that turns body movements into digital measurements that can tell steps taken and other information. A computer dashboard displays the top players and their scores for all to see, much like a public gaming machine.

Part of the inspiration came from New Year’s resolutions, said Caricofe, who has used her Fitbit for a couple years. “It is motivating,” she said. “It buzzes when you reach 10,000 steps.”

She doesn’t find it invasive, as it uses a smartphone and wireless technology to track her progress, keeping some information private and some, like the number of steps, open for co-workers or other competitors to see.

Shawna MacDonald, assistant vice president of human resources and administrator of the program for Machias Savings, said the program has encouraged small-group interactions and challenges. “The greater benefit of the program has been people forming smaller groups on the side of the full program and having ‘work week hustles,’ ” she said.

Those using fitness trackers – Fitbit is just one brand; there are also Garmin, Apple Watch and others – can view their cumulative progress on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Those using fitness trackers – Fitbit is just one brand; there are also Garmin, Apple Watch and others – can view their cumulative progress on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

BRAGGING RIGHTS

The competitive aspects quickly hooked Appleby, who consistently occupied first place among bank employees. That is, until Doria Morrison in the Rockland branch joined the challenge.

“My best month was March,” when I had 27,000 steps (a day),” he said. The recommended average by Fitbit is 10,000 steps, or about 5 miles, Appleby said. But Morrison, an avid walker, proved too fierce a challenger.

“I beat her by a couple thousand steps in March,” he said. “But now she’s won every month since.”

Morrison, 34, said she’s always been fit, and averages 25,000 to 30,000 steps a day, a pace Appleby and others can’t match.

He isn’t daunted by being in second place. “It’s all about bragging rights,” he said. “I stretch every hour anyway. And the competition is a hell of a motivator. I dropped a pant size and now the buttons on my shirt fit.”

Now Morrison is in the hot seat. “I don’t want to be in second place,” she said. “I’d never hear the end of it.”

But you don’t have to be in first place to benefit. Morrison said she notices one coworker goes up and down the steps frequently, boosting his numbers. She and Appleby said the Fitbit isn’t really addictive in that they’re not looking at their wrist all the time. But knowing they’re getting enough exercise is important, they said.

IS IT ANOTHER FAD?

Appleby said one of the work benefits is the camaraderie around the Fitbits. He’s noticed at least a dozen people walking on their lunch break.

Appleby, and Machias Savings, are among the growing ranks of individuals and companies in Maine and nationwide focused on getting sedentary employees moving with Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin and other fitness trackers. Fitbit alone has sold more than 10 million of its wrist devices in the first half of this year, according to its financial statement.

However, like other new gadgets, about one-third of fitness trackers are abandoned after about six months, according to a report by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based consultancy Endeavour Partners.

Sarah Henkges, an associate professor of fitness at the University of Maine at Augusta-Bangor and an instructor at the Bangor YMCA, said she’s noted a bit of a drop off in fitness tracker use, especially by the more casual users.

“But ‘Type A’ people tend to use them more and use more of the features,” she said. “People like to be able to see tangible proof they’ve accomplished something, and some of the monitors give them a measurement such as the amount of calories or steps they’ve earned. It’s a reward system.”

In her blog, she noted that while fitness trackers can build up camaraderie and competition in the workplace, they can’t measure everything, for example, leg movements while biking (unless you put the tracker on your leg) or benefits from yoga. She wrote that she also is concerned that someone might become frustrated if they aren’t able to meet their fitness tracker goals.

While the Fitbit has been the most successful health program to date for Kennebec Savings, there have been a few dropouts. One person couldn’t get back on track after her vacation, and another felt guilty that she wasn’t up to the task and would bring her team down. But overall, the program has been a resounding success.

“We set a goal for all of us each month. The top 15 steppers are put into a raffle for an extra vacation day. And others who have improved their steps 20 percent one month over another are put into a drawing for an extra vacation day,” said Kevin Healey, 63, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at Kennebec’s main office in Augusta. “It’s very popular.”

Kennebec started its Fitbit program in February, with the bank contributing toward the fitness tracker purchase. Some 73 of the bank’s 118 employees are using it. Healey said employees have more energy and work together in team challenges. He said he has slept better and has a better pulse rate.

He attributes the program’s popularity to involvement by senior management. Seven of the nine top bank executives are actively involved, so employees can watch their numbers along with everyone else’s.

“The CEO is in the top 10, and the COO also is at the top, but he has long legs so we think he has an advantage,” Healey said, saying management involvement shows “they are getting in there and doing it.”

Healey said Kennebec is in discussions now with Bangor Savings Bank to have a challenge between the two banks.

“My only concern is they have so many more people than us,” he said. “So we have to decide on the size of the teams and agree to have no ‘ringers.’ ” q

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