Some time ago, my brother suggested this app for my phone.  It is supposed to be an app that keeps you healthy.  It basically counts your steps every day and gives you a target.  At least, that is how I use it.  It actually does a lot more than this, but I feel that anything more is an intrusion, and really I do not want to be told by my phone on a regular basis that I am unfit, unhealthy and going to die sooner than later. Frankly, I would rather not know; I like surprises.

So this app probably measures your steps, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels and BMI.  There is probably something you can download or buy that will tell you your body fat percentage, your bone density and your metabolic rate.  I know that the little bracelet thingy you can buy (for over £100) monitors your sleep too.  Give them another month and your phone will be able to analyse the contents of your stools, and tell you that cruciferous vegetables are what’s missing from your diet this week.  I have no doubt that you can use it in conjunction with a calorie counter app and therefore place your entire health and well-being in the hands of your phone.  And for some people that works, it’s one less thing to think about, they want their phones to tell them everything:  what to eat, where to eat it, when to eat it, if it was tasty and nutritious and if they should now go home by bus, on foot, or place heavy weights in their shoes and trek home via the Himalayas.

I am not one of those people.  This app that I use tells me how many steps I do each day and I try to make the target of 10,000 steps most days.  I mean, I say I try, but sometimes, it doesn’t happen you know?  And yet, I am able to go on living.  It’s hard, but I try.

Back to the app.  When I first got it, I became a bit obsessed.  Like every child with a new toy, everything became about steps.  Every journey I undertook, no matter how small, had to count.  If I forgot my phone on the way to the bathroom, I was really annoyed.  If I realised halfway there that I didn’t have it, I would consider dropping to the floor, and dragging myself by the elbows military style to wherever I had left it, so as not to ‘waste a journey’.  I was reminded of  the time when I had first passed my driving test, and everywhere that we needed to go I would say: “I’ll drive!”  I would find excuses to go out and drive all the time.  This is no different.

The thing about this app is that because you join it on someone else’s recommendation, you then are on a leaderboard.  This means that you are in direct competition with people you ordinarily quite like. Thankfully,  I am not a particularly competitive person when it comes to sports or athletics or anything that requires physical competence and coordination.  I assume that I decided to let any competitiveness go at a young age, as a coping mechanism for being sports challenged.  There are all sorts of things I do like to compete in, and can get quite competitive at – cards for example (or so I am told) but physical pursuits are not them.  I am therefore not too phased by the fact that my brother consistently does twice as many steps as I do weekly.

I tell myself that it is because he lives further from work, and walks long distances every day.  Also, he takes a walk every time he goes out for a cigarette, and gets about 500 steps per smoke, which is something I do not factor into my day.  He lives in a 3 storey house and does about 3000 steps before even leaving for work what with getting himself and his three kids ready for work/school every day.  And all of these points are valid.  Except, everyone else I am on it with also walks circles around me.  And in particular, D’s boyfriend R who often spends the whole day with us, goes where we go and does what we do, and yet manages to average about 4000 steps more.  We think he is either marching while he pees, or mincing everywhere.

When my cousin D came over for a visit from Greece, he too became obsessed with the app.  Not because he joined it – he didn’t – nor because he wanted to get in on the madness.  No, he became obsessed with finding a way to cheat your phone into recording steps when you weren’t actually doing steps.  This became his mission.  He suggested strapping the phone onto a dog, or slipping it into a passing jogger’s backpack.  That’s all well and good, but if you are chasing a dog/jogger to retrieve your phone, you are also doing the steps.  You may as well hang on to the phone yourself and avoid arrest.  Then he thought I could attach it to kitchen equipment and get steps while I was mixing, or blending.  This didn’t work.  He is still thinking about it I know.  When I get to Greece this summer, I will be met with some crazy plan.  I couldn’t explain that working out how to cheat the system was completely missing the point.

Basically, this thing has good points and bad points.  I’ll start with the bad…

I have become a little obsessed.  The other day, a friend, T , came round and we were having a really nice evening hanging out and watching TV.  At about 11:30pm, I looked at my phone and realised I was about 1000 steps short of my target.  After walking around my dining room table a few times, (T actually put on the theme from Benny Hill and chased me around the table), we realised I was not going to make the target in this manner.  Plus I was laughing too hard at this point.  We put on our coats and went out walking until midnight.  Yes, officially that is when you realise you have a problem.  I was reminded of when I first realised I was addicted to cigarettes.  For the first 6 years I smoked, I would tell everyone I wasn’t addicted and that I could quit any time I wanted to.  It wasn’t a problem.  Then one night I ran out of cigarettes before bed and drove to Heathrow airport from Richmond to buy some.  (It was a long time ago before the 24hr phenomenon, I don’t know why Heathrow, but suffice it to say there wasn’t anywhere local.)  Oh dear, this was definitely a sign that I was addicted.  Just as with that day, the day I left a comfortable sofa and dragged a (lovely and understanding) friend out for a walk was the day I realised I may have a problem.

Another bad point is the ‘encouraging’ messages the app comes up with.  Actually this should come under good and bad.  When you do a lot of steps in one day, it tells you how well you are doing.  You can unlock achievements and it records your distances so eventually when you walk certain distances it gives you a badge of some sort.  Lovely.  Unfortunately, to keep up your enthusiasm for the walking, it also gives you a hard time if you underachieve.  The last two weeks have been underachieving weeks for me, I have been averaging between 5 and 7 and a half thousand instead of ten.  So my phone sends me a sad face and gives me some statistic about how I used to do better.  Already feeling lethargic and lazy because you have reduced your exercise by a quarter and then having an inanimate object point it out to you is a bummer let me tell you.

Words of encouragement...

Words of encouragement…

and a reminder that I could do better...

and a reminder that I could do better…

The major plus though is that it has changed my attitude to walking.  I have been walking a lot over the past year or so, but this target to aim for every day means that I park a little further away from where I want to go, or get off the bus a stop early.  And distances don’t mean as much.  I mean I don’t even think about walking to the local high street, or even the West End now.  It just doesn’t seem as far.  As a card carrying member of the lazy squad, I used to spend a lot of time and mental energy trying to work out how to do less walking.  I often wouldn’t go to the High Street unless I had three or more jobs to do.  Now, I go, sometimes twice a day, and don’t think about it.  I enjoy the walk, and my walking time has improved.  I am also blessed with Regent’s Park as my back garden (more on that in an upcoming post) and so I have no shortage of beauty and nature at my disposal should I ever want to ‘take a turn about the garden’.

So overall, I will say I am happy with the app.  I mean I am a little obsessed, but really only with making my own targets.  I am not trying to beat anyone else on my leaderboard (that way madness lies) and I feel fitter than ever.  Unfortunately walking makes me hungry…

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