I don’t know how I got myself so fully armed and loaded with all these gadgets just to go for a walk around the block, however long that block may be. Not that it should come as a complete surprise, considering that as far back as some 10 years ago I kept a database I designed that tracked my walks, routes, weather conditions, and other standard as well as oddly notables along the way. I’d come back from my perambulations in the hills and then sit on my behind for hours entering the data and then tweaking the database and the kind of reports I could generate from it.
I guess I always liked information, maybe with a special soft spot reserved for the kind that could easily be quantified. As if the measure of things would somehow be the magical key to the very sense of those same things.
So what do we have here?
First (over to the left on my and the right of the picture), there is the Fitbit, a nifty little clip based on Wii technology that measures steps you take, as well as the number of floors you climb, calories you burn, how active you are, and then transmits all this info to a USB base station for upload to the web site where you can track all sorts of other health info, from the foods you consume, to the hours you sleep, to your glucose levels and blood pressure readings, including the fleeting impressions you might have of your mood and which you want to record for posterity, or for as long as this fad for being your own better self measured in numbers lasts.
Next up we have the Polar Heart Rate Monitor setup, with the watch visible on my arm and the strap with the unit that measures the heartbeats tucked under the shirt. Moving on to the other hip, there is the old-fashioned pedometer, also counting steps and calories. And yes, the pedometer and the Fitbit do not agree on the number of steps taken or miles covered during a given stretch of a walk. Nor does in any way Endomondo the app on my phone that also tracks routes via GPS. All very disconcerting to a numbers freak, but very revealing to a psychologist (I would think) in the choice of the final results I take for the record. (And yes, for the record, I always err on the low side of the numbers, that is, I take the lowest ones, the ones that show me as the underachiever).
So what’s the point of chasing all these numbers, you ask -- that is, if you are not too busy laughing by now? On the face of it, this numbers game should be a constant incentive and an occasional reward. An incentive to keep moving and a reward when all that movement shows a positive upswing in trends.
And yet… here is the rub. My “trainer” on the Fitbit site is an algorithm. It knows something about my given numbers (such as I supplied them), but nothing much more about what makes me tick. Nor does it care for the kinds of days I am having, or if my hip is bothering me more today than yesterday. Not that I can't share this info with more than just the fields in a database, because there is a very active community of users of this gadget who want to share with each other the miraculous ways this gadget has helped them transform themselves and also the many obstacles they encounter along their step-counted journeys to better health and fitness. It’s been documented that weight loss and general health improvements are much easier to achieve when they are undertaken in the company of others.
There was quite an influx of those “others” with the New Year, people who received their Fitbit as a gift over the holidays, or whose companies perhaps gave them a health care incentive if they used it. This was exciting at first, hearing from so many set on the same path and sharing my interest in the power of numbers and delights in tracking.
The day my aha moment came when someone posted on the forum asking if anyone could beat the numbers said “poster” got in one day: more than 60k steps & over 38 miles, and phenomenal "activity" numbers, not to mention seemingly enough calories burned to cover the nutritional energy needs of a small country for a week. All this in ONE day. At first I turned slightly green, then, a little later red from laughter as I read through the responses, all praising the poster, and some of them also flexing their own big daily numbers in between the praise and admiration.
My response was a “wow” and an admission that no, I can’t beat those numbers. And then, almost as an afterthought, I added “nor do I want to.” Because I am doing this to get healthier, and that includes working on the healthier parts of competition. Only one person in the thread “heard” me, and the rest ignored me. That’s not exactly true, because I got some new “friend” requests on the site, which when I accepted them, immediately knocked me down the “leaderboard,” giving me the first opportunity to test my health resolutions around competition.
My new challenge then is to find strength in company, in its greater numbers as people go, but more importantly, in the lesser numbers of performance I put forth in this company. Because sometimes less is not only more, but the absolute maximum in a healthy life that is not only worth measuring, but, in fact, worth living!