The tyranny of the Fitbit

At the end of a walk together last year, where we had ambled slowly around the grounds of Mount Edgecumbe on the Cornish border my friend looked at her Fitbit and told me that we had walked 2.5 miles. I was astounded.

I knew how long I could ride an exercise bike for before my bum got too numb, I knew how long I could work on a rowing machine before my knee joints throbbed with pain and I knew how many lengths I could swim until my legs were too wobbly to walk to the showers but I still did not know how far I could walk. 

Walking is unequivocally difficult. Less difficult than in the early days for sure, but difficult nonetheless. Before the accident, pain was nothing to be feared, merely a sign of hard-worked abdominals or a pleasingly effective HIIT session. Since the accident, I now hit a wall of pain and fatigue that I can’t overcome. I understand that for runners, breaking through the wall brings a rush of adrenaline and endorphins. This is sadly not the case for me. Physio has taught me to recognise the difference in pain caused by underused muscles that I need to endure for the benefit of my long term fitness and the bone deep pain that means that I am grinding my arthritic joints too far.

What makes walking an even more fun game of ‘how far will my legs take me today?’, is that the distance I can walk on any given day varies according to a myriad of factors: the weather, the previous day’s exertions, footwear, ground surface, the phases of the moon… One of those may not be true.

One day last year, I had gone to town alone. I had chores to do, so had planned the shops I needed to go to in order of the proximity to the car park, starting with the furthest away shop and working my way back. However, that day I hit the wall far earlier than I had expected. I was given some warning signs, my limp got more pronounced, my hip started burning, the sole of my bad foot was increasingly tender, so I altered my course to return to the car early, but it was already too late. I was, perhaps 500 metres from the car park, but it may as well have been 500 miles as far was I was concerned. I could not walk another step. All I could do was sit on a low wall until the pain subsided a little and creep at a snail’s pace towards the car, where I wept with frustration.

Back to the 2.5 mile revelation. This was big news. I immediately returned home and Googled Fitbits. I knew that I wanted a waterproof one (since most of my exercise is done in a swimming pool) and I didn’t want too many bells and whistles on it. I settled on a Flex 2 and on Christmas Day last year, I unwrapped my shiny new toy and immediately set it to charge. We were spending Christmas with my in-laws in Australia and had a packed itinerary of exploring ahead of us. I wanted it up and running and collecting data as soon as possible.

Over the following days, I grew transfixed by my Fitbit dashboard as it revealed my abilities in a row of green stars and glowing praise. I started trying to please it by attempting to beat my previous day’s scores. In the warm, dry air of Western Australia, I was consistently hitting 10,000 steps and on one day on holiday when I walked the Busselton jetty, I hit the dizzy heights of 8 miles in one day, although I paid for it later that evening.

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Back from holiday, real life returned. I went back to work and with it, long periods on my computer sat in my kitchen. I began to get irritated by the passive aggressive buzzing if I was inactive for too long, feeling it’s disapproval lying heavily on my wrist. My easily won stars in Australia faded like my tan with Dartmoor’s cold dampness wrapping around my arthritic limbs once more. I started to resent the lack of context in those graphs and charts – where could I explain that the rain had made my knee ache that day or rendered the ground uneven, that ice had make walking even more treacherous?

I wore it until the end of April, when it started to malfunction. Steps went unrecorded and I revelled in a reason to take it off. Freed from it’s tyranny, I relaxed, judging my activity levels by how tired I felt rather than by little charts. It was left on a shelf with a pile of paperwork that was one day destined to be filed, but for now lay unforgotten gathering dust. Eventually the pile was moved and the Fitbit was lost amongst the debris of everyday life.

Recently, I have begun to wonder again about my little row of green stars. Has the puppy increased my fitness levels? I definitely feel more active but would it be backed up by the stats? I am tempted to find out. Perhaps, I should put it on my Christmas list again this year?

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