With the ongoing left knee problems I had stopped step counting. It was just too depressing. I gave away my Garmin fitness tracker and just walked as much as I could without pain.
Things have been better lately with my knee brace. I’m dog walking a bit more. And of course, I’m still bike commuting.
So recently I decided to activate Google Fit. It’s a bit much putting on the Garmin bike computer for my 5 km round trip commute but I wanted some way to quantify daily activity. So I decided to activate Google Fit on my phone. I have to say I’m impressed. I like its focus on active minutes instead of steps and I like that it counts intensity too.
From the app, “Being active is important to our health, but how much or what kind of activity do you need? Google Fit worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to develop two activity goals based on WHO’s physical activity recommendations shown to impact health – Move Minutes and Heart Points. When it comes to your health, it’s important to move more and sit less. Earn Move Minutes for all your activity and get motivated to make small, healthier changes throughout your day, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, or catching up with a friend over a walk instead of a coffee. Activities that get your heart pumping harder have tremendous health benefits for your heart and mind. You’ll earn one heart point for each minute of moderately intense activity, such as picking up the pace when walking your dog, and double points for more intense activities such as running. It takes just 30-minutes of brisk walking five days a week to reach WHO’s recommended amount of physical activity shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, improve sleep and increase overall mental well-being.”
I’ve set my move minutes to 90 a day and my heart points to 20. I’m still fiddling.
I like the clean interface. It’s clearly focused on activity instead of weight loss. And it automatically detects my two main forms of activity–biking and walking. I like not having to wear a watch and I have my phone with me pretty much all the time I’m walking and biking. I mean, yes I walk around inside my house without my phone but I am happy not tracking that activity.
I was getting bored with the Fitbit Charge: kind of plain and it doesn’t track my heart rate. Just having turned 50 (I think of it as upgrading to version 5.0), and having a chat with doctor, it was time to get a device that monitored my heart.
The last time I looked at the Fitbit HR Charge, $199.99, it still didn’t have an app for my Windows phone. And it’s still boring.
This is the problem with most fitness trackers, people get bored with them.
We’ve all got that friend who goes the extra distance to get those steps tracked on her fitbit or other gadget. That may even be you. But it’s not me. I can’t quite imagine wearing something that tracks my every move. I’ve nothing against it, but it’s not a strategy I’m drawn to.
It’s too much information and too much tracking. I mean, I have my Garmin Forerunner 310 info after each run and I hardly ever get around to looking at it. What the heck am I going to do with daily information about how many steps I’ve taken? And yet I know that there are areas where I could get more active.
I had an inspired (if I do say so myself) idea on the weekend that got me taking a few extra steps. And that was to act as if I was wearing a fitness tracker that recorded my every move. And just that little change kicked in a few new habits. As part of my temporary relocation, I’m living in a third floor condo instead of a 23rd floor condo. But I’ve been taking the elevator just because it’s a habit from living on the 23rd floor. Yes, you heard me, I was taking the elevator to the third floor. This is not a thing I would normally do.
And acting as if I had on a fitness tracker, I’ve now stopped taking the elevator up (unless I’m hauling groceries). My new place is a lot closer to the Y. Like, it’s so close that driving would be silly. But I almost drove a couple of times. Now, with my new strategy in place, driving is out of the question as I consider: what would my friends with fitbits do?
Worried about finding a parking spot closest to the building? Nope, not me! Why not? Because if I had a fitness tracker I would instead be looking for a spot on the outer reaches of the parking lot (forget that I’m driving — it’s just a little too far to walk and still make it to work on time unless I left super early, which no thanks because the mornings are already full enough without adding a 50 minute commute–but yes, I’m aware that the fitness tracker crowd might take that walk–baby steps).
Now, maybe this is just a variation on the old theme of adding steps to your day by doing things like taking the elevator, parking a little further from the door, getting off the bus a stop or two early, and walking over to a colleague’s desk or office instead of sending them an email message.
But in our high-tech world, that simple message doesn’t always sink in. And if I think in terms of “if I had a fitness tracker…,” somehow that gets me moving. I’m sure there’s good evidence published somewhere that people with fitness trackers cover more ground than those without.
But I think I’ve hit on a new angle for those of us who like the idea of a motivational kick but perhaps aren’t ready or willing to move into the world of 24 hour tracking. I’m a firm believer in “never say never,” so maybe one day the world of actually tracking my activity will make sense to me. But for now, I can pretend I’m tracking, and that seems to make a difference.
Do you use a fitness tracker? If you do, why do you? If you don’t, why don’t you (and do you think acting as if you did might get you to do a little more?)?
Well, counting them is easy but getting enough is hard work!
The other day I ran 3 km, I rode my bike, and I did a bunch of housework yet when I looked at my Garmin it read a measly 5574 steps. Short of my modest 7,000 step goal. And much short of the 10,000 step goal many people set.
I confess I’ve been skeptical about the step counting thing. I walk a lot. I have a standing desk. I live in a 3 story house, filled with teenagers, and I feel like I go up and down the steps all day.
But apparently not as much as I might think and especially not on the days I run.
I’ve only been counting steps because I bought a Garmin watch for running. I wanted some way of tracking my pace and heart rate while I run and the one I chose also acts as a general activity tracker, keeping track of steps and reminding you to get up when you’ve been sitting too long. I like the MOVE! reminder.
But I’ve become extra conscious of my sloth like behavior on days that I run or ride a lot. Today, finally, I made it. I ran and I counted 10,133 Steps | 100% of Goal. Phew.
I’m not worried about the alienation of children from free play. I’m not worried about the gamification, as they say, of play for kids. They’re kids. Everything is already a game.
But I am worried about this technology in the hands of parents. It’s the spectre of FitBit as surveillance tool. Not enough steps today? No dessert for you. Or walk your way to television hours. Time to use computers and watch TV must be earned in physical activity. Some experts on child inactivity think that parental over policing of childhood play is part of the problem. Outdoor play, in particular, is seen as dangerous and risky.
And those are the reasonable parents. In this time of heightened fear about the obesity crisis it’s hard to be a reasonable parent. Almost every parent I know is worried about their kids getting fat. Children are on the front lines of the war against obesity. As we realize how hard is to change adult body weight, the focus of policy makers shifts to the young. The thought is that if we can stop obesity either before it develops or in its early stages, we can avoid the health problems associated with overweight and obesity.
Parental anxiety about the pediatric weigh in looms large. I’ve written about the fear of having fat pets. Worse again if they are your kids, rather than your Bassett hounds, for example.. You’re a bad mother or father, though more likely the former. Dads rarely get blamed.
Consider that a number of families have been split up over obesity and you can see where the fear comes from. In Canada, the United States, and England (other places too probably) obese children have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
Here’s one woman’s account of having strangers comment on her right to parent based on the size of her child.
“If you let her keep getting fatter, they are going to take her away from you.” Stunned, I turned to the woman who said this to me. I struggled to find words to respond as she pushed past me, out of the restaurant, and into a waiting car. Having just finished a late meal after our children’s choir concert, I did not expect to find myself explaining to my daughter what this woman had meant when she suggested that my daughter could be “taken away” from me because she is fat (though not remarkably so) and perhaps more to the woman’s point, because I am remarkably fat.”
So another tool for parents to monitor and control their kids movements, in this context, makes a lot of sense. Parents can tell the judge they were doing something. “Look, I bought a FitBit for my chubby child.”
It might not just be the parents. Schools might also get involved given that they’ve been issuing BMI report cards. In a Staten Island schools Gwendolyn Williams, 4’1 and 66 pounds found out she was overweight by peeling back the sticker on top of the BMI number. See This kid is fat.
The spectre of FitBitted teens also put me in mind of Corey Doctorow’s young adult novels. Haven’t read Little Brother? Download it from here. I loved the scene where the young teens fool their school’s security biosensors by putting rocks in their shoes so they’d walk differently. Imagine teen hackers having fun with their FitBits. Yes, of course, I ran a marathon today mom, now hand over that pizza and the Xbox.
So to be clear, I’m not opposed to FitBits for kids. Kids love computers, games, and measuring things. And that’s great. But parents and teachers, let’s leave the kids alone and let them play. I suspect it will all work out better that way.