Friday, June 12, 2015

The FitBit Chronicles

I have been fond of walking from as far as I can remember. I moved three houses in Mumbai when I was studying and my school as well as my engineering college were always a thirty minute walking distance from my house. Just in range for a quick stroll. My friends and I would gather and walk to the beach each evening of our engineering days, spending a good two hours exercising our feet, walking in rugged chappals.
That of course was a different life. Responsibilities were sparse but free time was abundant. My current life is the exact opposite. I spend time driving my kids to school and classes, spend my time sitting through meetings or in my office near a computer. There is limited time I have for going to the gym and while I occasionally run and play tennis, it is fair to say that I don’t make enough time for focused excercise.
Enter the FitBit.
Why the FitBit?
I guess I should start by saying what FitBit is. It is essentially a fitness tracker. Depending upon which FitBit you get, you can track everything from measuring the number of steps you take to the amount of hours of sleep you get to the number of stairs you climb. The FitBit seemed to be well reviewed and met the requirements I had, so I went with it. No intense research was done.
How did I start?
The first few days of FitBit gave me some idea of where I was. The recommended minimum number of steps a day is 10,000. I was fluctuating between 8–10K depending upon the day. Just meeting the bar. Wearing the FitBit tapped into my intense statistic driven part of me. If you would have told me that a fitness tracker can be more addictive than FaceBook, I’d have laughed at you, but that has been the case. I checked my steps very often. I kept a track of when I walked, how much I walked. I began noting how it was 78 steps to the restroom from my office, 430 steps from my standard parking space to my office, so on and so forth. Slowly, my number started going up. Weekends were at 17–20K without effort (with summer and kids), but it was the weekdays where the effect was felt the most. I slowly inched from 10K to 12K on average. It was good, but something better was around the corner.
How did I go to the next level?
My good friend Suhel who is a statistic fiend himself was running a “walk cartel”. FitBit allows for grouping your friends and starting a contest. He joined me up in the Weekday Hustle where steps were tracked from Monday-Friday. If you thought fitness could not be a competitive sport, think again. The moment the competitions started, my 10K steps a day jumped to 15K steps a day. I was now walking 25000 steps more than I used to during normal weekdays. The competitions every week were intense, with people constantly pushing the bar up. The urge to sync my phone to my FitBit to check my steps and see where others were upto was irresistible. Slowly but surely, I was getting back to my old days of walking.
Where did the extra 5ooo steps come from?
My day’s routine was fixed. My free time was limited. I had to find ways to go from 10000 to 15000 without sacrificing any additional time. That required some ingenuity. I basically found every little excuse to move. I started moving during meetings when long winded discussions were on (to little consternation from my colleagues). I dragged a new colleague each day for a post lunch short walk. I took up every single excuse within the house to pick up things, to put them in the right place, to walk around the kitchen island while beatings eggs, or walk to the post box even when there was no chance of a new letter each day. I would feed my younger one a spoon of rice, take a walk around the floor while he slowly chewed it and come back for the next one. In short, I went to being the anti-sedentary guy I needed to be in order to make this happen.
Is this all worth it?
It has been nearly two months of doing this and it is hard to tell what the actual health benefits are. Most of my walking is in short bursts and I don’t know whether just having a large total matches up the benefits of doing a really long walk. I don’t believe walking alone can lead to weight loss, neither am I feeling perceptibly fitter (though I am sure my cardiovascular health is improving). What I do notice is the complete absence of lethargy now. I don’t want to slouch onto a couch and do nothing. If I have free time, I move. If I have two minutes while my coffee is heating, I move. Towards a competitive goal that has nothing to do with the drudgery of exercise. And therein lies the great benefit. Walking was always a joy to me and I have rediscovered it from an unexpected medium. Until the point where I take some of this effort and energy and direct it towards some other form of excercise that doesn’t involve steps, I intend to try and maintain this scale of walking. As the tagline of this year’s hit Hindi movie ‘Piku’ suggested, ‘Motion se hi emotion’ :)


Vidya said...

I was once crazed with my FitBit, too. Since the battery died, however, I haven't replaced it since. (I had the Zip.) Your post inspired me to dig it out again. :)

I think you'd enjoy this David Sedaris article on living the Fitbit life:

Parth said...

Vidya: So great to hear from you after such a long time! Please do dig it out and get moving again. Someone else might pick it up from you. And that article was lovely, though it also reflected the possibilities of a life when you don't have the regular responsibilities to deal with. Job, children etc. :)