Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Joining the cult: How Fitbit changed my life in unexpected ways.

I used to laugh at people in the FitBit cult.

I belong to a group of friends that is absolutely obsessed and constantly competing with each other. They jog on the spot at birthday parties, dance while they're cooking, walk to places any sane person will drive to and watch their stats all day long. My friend Nicole will run next to her bed until midnight to beat someone in a challenge, and Julia blindly does laps around the main floor of her house while her kids are in bed, texting us the entire time.

I laughed at them, but I never wanted a FitBit for fitness sake. I've always been an active person, with long distance running and gymnastics as a child and teen morphing into walking, biking and swimming as an adult. I like to move, and that is motivation enough. But I was curious for other reasons, because it seemed like the mere act of looking after my children was taking an awfully large number of steps. Sometimes I would count them in my head for short periods to get a general idea. I considered asking one of my friends to tear themselves away from a single challenge to borrow one and see.

One day a few months ago Julia showed up at my door (walking of course. The round trip between our houses is 7,000 steps). I was blown away by her incredibly kind gesture of buying me a FitBit so I could finally be included in the madness. She rushed it over so I could get it set up and compete in the Weekend Warrior starting the next morning. I stared at that thing for hours as it charged up, mentally willing that 5th dot to appear. The second I fastened it up, I was a changed woman.

There were some technical difficulties at first. There were some frantic calls and emails to their support team, some lamenting over lost steps and some friendly taunting about the whole thing before I was up and running.

Me before FitBit: I don't really care about competing. I just want to see how many steps I get naturally.

Me after FitBit: Galloping around my mother in law's tiny apartment during Easter dinner so I didn't fall behind the others.

It's never just about exercise. Sure that jog or walk will get you some steps, but in the grand scheme of things, even if you're training for a marathon, if you've got a desk job you're no match for a stay at home mom who walks her kids to school and back every day. A step is a step is a step and they add up around the clock. Everything counts, from that trip to the bathroom at 3 a.m. to loading your dishwasher before bed.

Right away I was hyper aware of my every movement, checking my stats every time I walked past my computer. I was always just ahead of or just behind someone, so I was extremely selective about when I sat down. FitBit graphs out your day in 15 minute increments, and it was rare during waking hours to ever see even one little block of time blank. I consciously chose my sitting time only when I deemed it worth it so that when I saw blank spaces I felt only joy at the memory of sitting and visiting with friends, rather than guilt at time wasted with mindless internet surfing.

Nothing seemed to beat a good solid walk, so I started walking multiple times a day. I would make plans with friends that required me to walk to their houses and back, and would take another long walk every evening when my husband got home from work. I started running errands on foot like I used to back when I had just one child. I noticed I was sleeping deeper at night, my sleep stats showing long patches of solid blue.

In the evenings, when it was too dark to walk and competition was close, I refused to waste precious energy jogging next to my bed or doing laps of my house. Instead, I got those extra steps in by frantically cleaning my house.

I've always been a terrible housekeeper, because there is just always something more worthwhile in my eyes than the never ending battle of trying to keep my house clean. In the past if I ever had a spare minute I would have rather spent it doing anything else in the world. But suddenly I was being compensated for this thankless and endless work. Running up and down stairs to put things back in their proper places, pacing back and forth across the room to put away laundry, bustling around sweeping? It suddenly counted for more than just simple adulting. Every time I picked up a broom or hung up a jacket, my steps went up, and unlike the chore, which would very soon be undone and forgotten, those steps were something I got to keep forever. My house got cleaner, yes. But what really improved was my attitude.

It's tiring to chase after children and it's depressing to be on your feet all day yet feel like you accomplish nothing. After Seven years in this parenting rodeo, I was starting to run on fumes, and earning steps for each ridiculous endeavor put new wind in my sails. Suddenly it was less soul crushing to jump up to clean the spilled milk or run up the stairs to grab a forgotten library book when in the back of my mind was always the thought 'this will give me extra steps'. I stopped cringing at the sound of random cries and demands and simply jumping up to deal with it because it no longer felt quite like drudgery.

My daughter thought it was hilarious that all us mothers were galloping around our houses frantically trying to win a digital trophy every week, but she was also strangely proud when I was winning.

Aside from all these wonderful perks of improved fitness, sleep and attitude, for me the best part of FitBit is the camaraderie. Even when we can't be there in person, my friends are there to cheer each other on, to jokingly curse when someone takes a really long walk, to worry when someone hasn't synced or taken their usual number of steps. It's a constant daily narrative that encourages us all to strive for better health, attitude and connection. So maybe I'm brainwashed now like the rest of them (even if I refuse to jog on the spot), but I can honestly say my life is much richer for admission into this twisted and fabulous cult.