A couple of months ago, my wife suddenly announced that she was thinking of getting a ‘fit bit’, and wondered if I wanted one too.
Initially taken aback by the fact she had paused Pointless in THE MIDDLE OF A ROUND to ask me this (it’s like she hasn’t even read my ‘house rules’), I took a few seconds to process what I had just heard. Of course, by ‘fit bit’, I naturally assumed that she was looking to broaden her horizons with a toy boy, and was offering me the freedom from our marriage to find myself an equally young and flexible plaything.
Having immediately shown far too much enthusiasm for this suggestion, and begun reeling off a list of potential names, she interrupted me (by way of a slap to the face) to explain that a ‘Fitbit’ is in fact a device which monitors your daily exercise.
After an awkward silence, during which time I was made to delete certain female contacts from my phone, she went on to show me some examples online – ranging from the basic systems, right up to the ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ top of the line models. We quickly agreed that neither of us really needed to know our precise location on earth at any given moment in time (although she was now keen to keep an eye on mine), how much sleep we’d had the night before (easy: very little), or the weight of our last bowel movement (ok, I made that one up), so thankfully the cheaper end of the spectrum seemed to suit our requirements. Ultimately, we opted for the ‘Zip’, which is the entry level product. I can only assume that the person hired by the company to come up with the names, had been poached from Kia or Volkswagen.
Despite being the runt of the litter, the ‘Zip’ is still pretty clever. You attach the device to your clothing – I’ve opted for the belt loop or waistband, depending on whether I’m wearing trousers or shorts at the time, and apparently it is common practice for ladies to clip it to their bra – and it monitors how many steps you take in a day, the distance you have covered, how many minutes you have been ‘active’, and what calories have been burned in the process. You can also track any exercise that you have done on a little map for others to see, but I am yet to indulge in that particular humiliation. Then, periodically, the device syncs with the app on your phone, laptop or tablet (via Bluetooth), and it records your progress in pretty-coloured bar graphs, so you can see just how woefully inactive you really are.
When you first install the app, you have to register your height and weight, so that it can work out what distance you have covered each day and how many calories you have burned doing so. For example, due to our difference in height, both my wife and I could cover the same number of steps during a 24 hour period, but my distance travelled would be far greater, since I have big gangly legs, whereas she is a borderline dwarf.
You have targets to try and hit too. Apparently, the recommended daily number of steps you should cover is 10,000 and, if I’m honest, I don’t tend to get anywhere near this during the week, as I’m mostly sat at my desk working hard (well, writing blog entries and checking Facebook). At the weekend, however, when I take the dog to the park, run errands, and endlessly chase Ollie around soft play equipment at yet another birthday party, I tend to hit that target quite easily.
Those 10,000 steps equate, roughly, to 5 miles, which again is the recommended distance you should walk or run each day, and these miles accumulate until, every so often, you get rewarded with a nice little badge. For example, after a couple of weeks I was informed that I had earned the ‘Marathon’ badge, as I had completed my first 26 miles, and more recently I was the proud recipient of the ‘March of the Penguins’ badge, as I had reached 70 miles. Apparently this is the distance covered by Emperor penguins during their annual trip to the breeding grounds, so you learn something too. I’m now really looking forward to achieving my 150 mile ‘Restraining Order Taken Out By Holly Willoughby Against You’ badge, which should be any time within the next few weeks.
The targets aren’t just distance based though. The app tells me, and I have no reason to doubt it, that for someone of my height and ever-increasing weight, I should ideally be burning 2,877 calories a day, before I will see any improvement in my doughy physique. Now, I understand that the calories I burn can be roughly calculated from the amount and type of exercise I am doing, but how in the name of all things holy does it know what I have consumed in the first place? I mean, I know what I’ve eaten each day, but I haven’t the first clue what actual calories were consumed (and I have an inherent distrust of anyone who does have that information to hand, if I’m honest), so how can the Zip possibly know? Unless it can actually see me stuffing Chocolate Hobnobs into my face of an evening, then for all it knows I have just had salad and water all day.
Of course, it rather defeats the object if you’re trying to deceive the system into thinking you’ve been healthier than you actually have, but as long as I hit my targets, even if I eat my own body weight and get pissed in the process, then I count that as a win. I’m certain this is wrong, and I should in fact be keeping track of my calories to make sure I don’t go over 2,877 each day, but there is an enormous amount of satisfaction to be had from eating like a pig and still getting a big ‘thumbs up’ from the Zip for doing so well. Man 1, Machine 0.
I do wonder whether it is that easy to trick the top of the range products though, like the £200 ‘Surge’ for example. Perhaps, just as you’re dozing off to sleep at night, there is a little beep which wakes you with a message, like: ‘Oh, and don’t think I didn’t see you stuff that second piece of cake into your colossal gob earlier, you fat bastard’.
Then, not only do you have your own individual targets to try and meet each day, but you can also set daily, weekly, or weekend challenges against other Fit Bit users, and see who wins. My challenges are all against my wife, as she is the only other person I know with one of these gadgets, but she is also in a league with about ten others, all competing to see who can walk the farthest every week.
Such is our competitive nature, we’ve now started walking as far as possible each day, often unnecessarily, to try and ensure victory against the other. I recently went for a long walk on my lunch break, for no reason at all, just to try and beat her. It’s ridiculous.
A few months ago, if she’d looked at me pleadingly and asked if I could pop into town to get her something, I’d have told her to piss off and fetch it herself. Now though, I’m only too happy to insist that she stay on the sofa, before setting off in the rain to walk the longest route possible to our local shop. One time, I even deliberately forgot to pick up some milk while I was there, knowing we had run out, so I’d have to go back again. Silly me.
We’ve also notably started rushing to Isaac every time he wakes up during the evening, whereas before we’d have played rock/paper/scissors to see who would have to deal with the screaming little shit this time. Now, we’ll quite happily push past each other and sprint upstairs to comfort him back to sleep, even if it only means getting an extra 20 steps in before the challenge ends at midnight (30 if you also check on Ollie in the other room).
The other night, she was slightly nearer the stairs when we heard Isaac crying down the monitor, and therefore managed to get to him first. Disappointed at a lost opportunity, I decided to go in the other direction to the downstairs toilet, to try and equal the distance she was travelling. I didn’t even need to go. I just stood there, trying to squeeze a little trickle out to justify my visit.
Of course, with such a competitive nature and urge to win, the temptation to cheat is strong. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Zip is monitoring how many times it moves up and down with each step. So, by holding the device in your hand, and shaking it vertically, it registers this as further steps when, in reality, you haven’t moved anywhere. I’ve only tried this out of curiosity you understand, as I’m far too honest to actually cheat, but I can’t promise I wouldn’t think about it if there were only 50 or so steps between us at 11.55pm.
In fact, I am so honest, I recently decided to show my wife how easy it would be to cheat via this method, if I were the sort of person who would comprehend such underhand tactics – which, of course, I am not. As I demonstrated that you can actually record extra steps by simply shaking the device up and down, or standing on the spot and bouncing, she pointed out that, like most women it seems, she clips her Fitbit to her bra. Apparently, it isn’t very practical or comfortable to clip it to your waist if you’re wearing a dress or skirt. She therefore explained that, in order for her to cheat, she would have to stand on the spot and bounce her chest and up and down for minutes at a time.
Well, if she wants to cheat, who am I to argue?