Sunday, 2 March 2014

#367: Stepping Out with Fitbit

10,000 is a number to be reckoned with -- the steps we should all be walking every day in order to stay fit and stave off slug-dom.   And now, from the fitness front comes the urgent message that sitting is very, very bad for our health.  Sit less and move more!  Walk those 10,000 steps throughout the day or risk early death.   

But I am here to tell you that it is easier said than done, especially in the middle of a long, super-cold winter when the winds howl and the sidewalks are like poorly maintained skating rinks.  Besides, Canadians just know it is counter-intuitive to go walking in a blizzard unless you have roped yourself to the front door.

Nevertheless, back in January the combined onslaught of the Worst-Winter-Since-Dear-Knows-When and my 70th Birthday made me think long and hard about the importance of exercise.  Because even though I would much prefer to sit out the storm in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a book ( and the older I get, the more appealing it seems), I know that is The Way of the Slug.

I needed help. Enter Fitbit.

I first heard about this item of wearable technology when my friend Judy gushed enthusiastically about hers.   According to Judy her Fitbit kept track of everything she did, counted calories, and monitored sleep patterns. It encouraged her.  It rewarded effort. It was like a new BFF who understood her perfectly. She would never ever break it off.  It was love at first bit.

I was enchanted. I wanted to feel the love too, so with that birthday looming, I made my wishes known.  I wanted a Fitbit of my very own.

Bruce, the gift-giver, was less enthusiastic  "It is just a fancy pedometer", he argued.  Do you really need it? You can tell when you've had enough exercise."

He had a point  But I was sure the Fitbit would be much more.  It would be a fitness buddy,  tracking more activity than a mere pedometer, and it would report on calories and sleep.  (How many times did I wake at night, anyway?)  It would constantly update my performance online, estimating the intensity of my activity -- all the while counting steps.  I had already decided to set my goal at the magic number, 10,000.  But best of all, my Fitbit would be my personal cheerleader, exhorting to me to greater effort if I needed a push, and sending congratulations when my target was reached or exceeded.

Then my birthday arrived...


Oh joy, a Fitbit!!! Just what I wanted! How did you know?


That was six weeks ago, and since then my Fitbit Flex and I have been joined at the wrist.  As I get to know my new pal, however,  I feel like phoning Judy and asking her if she is still on her Fitbit honeymoon. Because as the days go by,  I am no longer quite so infatuated. I have never explored the world of online dating, but I suspect that what I am now experiencing with Flex Fitbit is not unlike what other women discover when it turns out that "loves music" actually means "loves heavy metal".  It takes time to really know a new suitor, and they may not be exactly as advertised.

As I learn the truth about Fitbit, I realize that it offers both more (and less) than I require.  The calorie counting and sleep tracking functions that seemed so seductive?   I don't really need them.

And Fitbit is not quite as good-looking as I had hoped.  The rubbery wrist-band has all the appeal of a throwaway watch strap, and it is almost impossible to fasten.  First I blamed my 70-year old fingers until I checked online and discovered lots of other whiners.  No wonder we never take the Flex off. We know what a misery it is to put back on.  

But my biggest complaint is that Fitbit and I do not quite agree on the interpretation of "activity".  Activity, for me, casts a very wide net and includes energy-expending tasks such as cooking, dusting and ironing, whereas housework appears not to register much at all for Fitbit unless it involves walking or at least moving the lower extremities.  Walking over to the oven?  Good.  Chopping and peeling 4 carrots?  Not good.  Cleaning toilets?  Don't ask. If it were summertime, I know I would get credit for cutting the grass but not for weeding.  It is possible to add specific "activities" to one's profile each day, so I had hoped to find a place for miscellaneous chores like folding laundry or preparing dinner, but the only permitted activities are swimming, cycling, walking and running. In fact, all Fitbit's preferences seem somehow very masculine.  No wonder I think of him as Mr. Fitbit.

I appear to be in a relationship with a fitness freak and he is not too happy with me unless I play the game his way.

But when I do, he gets very excited.  HOORAY! he exclaims from a big lime-green happy face on the Fitbit Dashboard when I hit the 10,000 step mark. (I can't help but feel extraodinarily pleased at this outcome, and if it occurs early in the evening, I celebrate by plunking down in front of the TV for the duration.)  Fitbit encourages in other ways, too.  If I am close to the target, he sends reminders to my Google tablet: Nancy -- only 2,245 steps to reach your goal!  Bruce interprets this exhortation as harassment. He tells me to change my goal.  "It would stop doing that, you know, if you had a target of 7,000 steps".   What I am more likely to do is head for the treadmill or the exercise bike in the basement.  2,000 steps is not really so much.

And some days, it actually isn't too hard to keep moving in a Fitbit-approved way.  A morning of grocery shopping, combined with an afternoon delivering books to my 15 retirement home readers is a 10,000-step day for sure.   I think I am also acquiring better 10,000-step habits. When the phone rings now, I do not automatically grab a cup of tea and head for the couch.  I walk and talk.  I can log 1,000 steps easily that way.  And I no longer chafe if life gets in the way of completing a task efficiently.  No place to park the car near the retirement home?   I'll have to walk further!  Yeah!  Did I discover at the checkout that I forget the milk?  Well thank goodness it is several aisles away because there and back to the dairy case is at least 250 steps.

And so on.

We are finding our way, Fitbit and I.  I haven't given him his walking papers yet, but I still wish he were more responsive.  Doesn't he know that schlepping the heavy vacuum up and down the stairs requires more than light effort? That knitting expends energy?  There is so much I'd like to teach him, but I'm not sure he'd get it. As in so many relationships, I may have to be one to compromise.  Perhaps I can learn to walk and peel carrots at the same time...  



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