Exercise Tracking Devices: A Lifelong Exerciser Gives One a Try and Comes Away Impressed
There are three kinds of adopters to modern exercise gadgets–early adopters, non-adopters and slacker adopters. One of the most popular exercise gadgets during my long lifetime, besides the 50’s rollerskates that tightened with a key, first appeared around 2007. That would be the Fitbit. This device is a big hit–the company has sold over 100 million devices to more than 28 million people. I was a non-adopter, until very recently. I was all for anything that got people moving, but I personally didn’t recognize the value of a device for motivating or tracking activity. Being into exercise, fitness and varied endurance forms of athletic competitions, I poo pooed, scoffed at and dismissed tracking movements as a distraction and a nuisance. I exercised almost daily for eight-plus decades and can’t recall wishing I had an activity tracker.
However, after discovering that my health insurance company would provide a $160 tracking device for free, I decided to give the contraption a go.
Voila! After one day or two wearing this attractive, comfortable and impressive handy dandy Fitbit Versa Lite marvel of modern technology, I became a slacker adopter no more.
A Fitbit is one of many step-tracker products, usually worn on the wrist like a watch. If you are anywhere near my age cohort, the device might initially remind you of the Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radio. If so, forgetaboutit! We’ve come a long way from Dick Tracy’s whiz bang comic book tool. That 1931 watch is a Bronze Age predecessor compared with the artificially intelligent/space age/ Large Hadron Collider (LHC)-worthy Fitbit.
Not everyone, however, benefits from more exercise. In fact, high test Superperson-like athletes who engage in wondrous feats of endurance might benefit from an anti-step, reverse Fitbit device that motivates, tracks and rewards non-exercise! This would be useful during periods where in athletes benefit from not taking unnecessary steps, or even standing up when they could be lying down, restoring their exhausted bodies for the grueling ordeal of competition of each new day’s demands.
This applies to riders in the three week Tour de France. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, walking or otherwise being up and about when not cycling is practically heresy for Tour riders. They need rest between stages. These endurance wunderkinder endure 21 brutal stages over the course of 2,164 miles, including mountain climbs. They fixate on conserving energy when not on their bikes; they don’t come close to 10,000 steps in total over the course of the entire race. (Source: Joshua Robinson, How to Exhaust a Tour de France Racer: Ask Him to Take a Walk, Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2020.)
In one of his many wins (all forfeited for cheating), Lance Armstrong rode 2,232 miles over the course of the Tour in 86 hours, 15 minutes and 02 seconds-clocking an average speed of 25.9 mph. Can you imagine the atta-boy congratulatory badges a Fitbit would have lavished upon him for a feat like that? Alas, he missed out, due to the near-certainty that Tour riders and other professional athletes have other, more consequential metrics to deal with, like hits, goals, touchdowns, times, points and soon. We ordinary mortals, however, can amuse and motivate ourselves with the pursuit of 10,000 steps a day (the gold standard for Fitbit users), heart rates, calories burned, floors climbed, zones traversed and so on.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH A FITBIT
I have always exercised regularly, as noted already, but tracking activity is a new experience. It’s motivating to have a convenient read out of such data as number of steps taken, maximum and average heart rates, calories burned, distance traveled, stairs climbed, and much more. It also gives details, when set to do so, for specific activities, such as swim, bike, run, walk, treadmill, weights, golf, tennis, yoga, etc. It even sends varied badges when you reach certain levels, such as 10 thousand steps in a day (I have not got fewer yet). Just yesterday I received the prized Redwood Forest Badge, proudly displayed at the top of this RWR. It came in an E-mail from Fitbit, with this high encomium accompaning the badge:
Way to go! You’ve climbed 25 floors. The tallest trees on Earth can’t top the heights you’ve been conquering. It’s no wonder you just earned the Redwood Forest badge!
One activity it does NOT track, which I’ve included in my daily routine these last six months for strength training (due to closure of fitness centers), is pushups. I do 200 six days of the week, 50 at a time during four stops on a one mile hike; on the seventh day, instead of resting, blessing and sanctifying the Earth, as God did after creating it, I settled for walking four miles and doing 500 pushups, 50 at each of ten stops.
Actually, my Fitbit can probably track pushups, too–there’s more to learn, as the device has almost as many features as an Apple watch. Besides time, day of the week and date, it has a timer, an alarm, weather, music, a wallet, a relaxation/breathing function, Alexa, a find-phone mechanism–oh hell, it never seems to end– there’s probably a get rich quick button somewhere.
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
I shared a copy of this essay with a colleague in Perth, Australia. I found his assessment most entertaining:
I smiled reading of your conversion to Fitbit promoter. God will be encouraged to see that you are so easily swayed by some nifty technology. Look out in the mail for the next wrist gadget that counts your Our fathers and Amens before rewarding you with Way to go, you have reached the first step on the stairway to heaven. I have heard (similar to Trump’s they say) it is common for people to convert as time runs out. I have even heard of people converting to spa treatments.
This led me to think of that perhaps Fitbit enthusiasts should heed the words of Lord Chesterfield: ‘Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket, and don’t pull it out and strike it only to show you have one. If you are asked what o’clock it is, tell it, but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.’ Lord Chesterfield, statesman and writer (22 Sep 1694-1773)
In other words, the good Lord (Chesterfield, that is) was urging wellness newsletter writers to spare us unsolicited details about their step counts, heart rates, calories burned, stairs climbed, cardiac minutia and other insufferable details. Point taken.
So, whether you are a hard-core fitness buff or a soft-core non-exerciser, consider a tracking device. It’s inexpensive (and might be free if you have a good health insurance plan), versatile and might lead to more daily movement which, if you’re not a professional athlete, may be a very good thing.