Northern Girl… in the defence of fitness trackers and step counters

I’ve decided to take a slight change on my blog this week. So no Northern thriftiness here today…
You may have seen the various articles that have been making the news rounds slamming fitbit and other step counting apps and if you haven’t, have a delightful read of one here
I have been a very proud owner of a fitbit for 18 months now. At the time of purchasing I had cut down on my exercise substantially, a change in work location meant I could no longer put in a 4 hours solid dance student teaching after work. Where I lost hours in the studio I gained some exercise walking from Leeds train station to my office, purchasing my fitbit was my way of putting my mind at ease that I was doing enough exercise and that I didn’t need to spend a fortune at the gym and admittedly I followed the 10k rule that the media have so forcefully slammed today. However, not only did my fitbit make me feel I was doing enough, it drove a competitive edge in me, a determination that I was somewhat lacking before. I was far from obsessed and I didn’t choose to beat myself up if I didn’t hit 10k but I found myself actually going out at lunch to walk and choosing the furthest toilet cubicle away when making bathroom trips, I was also consciously drinking more water (the app can track that too) and reducing my amount of caffeine intake once I was logging the number of cups I was used to taking.
My Fitbit flex – a permanent fixture on my wrist
I got talking to a colleague about it and she too wanted in on the game. A year down the line and a new location for me and we’re still in contact daily through fitbit (and her family and friends, 7 in total who are all proud owners of a fitbit device.) It was a healthy obsession for both of us, she enjoyed it so much she literally couldn’t be without, she lost her fitbit once on a night out and rather than wait for her free replacement from fitbit she had to go out and buy a new one the following day, and whilst that sounds obsessive I can assure you it’s the healthiest kind of obsession.
We would have a daily update about how we were doing that week and the more of our colleagues we talked to around the country the more we realised that there was a real fitbit motion going on so we decided to set up our weekly challenge, a little friendly competition among staff.
We encouraged everyone to get involved even those who did not have a physical tracker could still join in just by downloading the app. This level of competition made it more exciting for us, we would fight over who would get the furthest cubicle on our way out, we would nearly always take the stairs and volunteer ourselves for tea runs just to see how much we could boost our score by. Like I said, 18 months since we both first purchased and we still run the same weekly group.
Since I’ve moved to London I have upped my walking game big time to the point where I have upped my daily target from the recommended 10,000 steps to 13,000 steps. Where I would previously have to drive to my nearest station in Wakefield, I walk to my nearest tube stop. When I’m not running late, I make the conscious decision to walk to my office from the next nearest station (Westminster, rather than getting off at St James’ Park) and when we’re not snowed under with work – and it isn’t snowing outside – I try and fit in a couple of laps of the park in my hour lunch break. My competitive streak also hasn’t stopped, since moving here I’ve taken up running and as I type this blog i’m in my running gear 1. Because I haven’t ran in a while and I’ve set myself a target of running my first 10k this year 2. Because I’m a little bit behind in this week’s competition. I’ve been known to take an extended route home because it would put me in front of my nearest competitor.
I honestly believe I wouldn’t do any of this without my tracker, well maybe the running but that’s only because I’ve caught the bug, and that’s why today’s article has hit me so hard. As far as I’m concerned I do not see anything wrong about walking round the park in my lunch break as opposed to sitting at my desk or extending my commute by a mere 10 minutes if it means i’m out in the open more. Thanks to my fitbit I can track my sleep so I know if my constant fatigue is due to poor sleep quality or something more serious and then there’s the food logging on top which I don’t even do! These apps can do it all and so much more and who doesn’t love some good statistics or charts? That’s why it pains me that there are people out there who may have been looking at investing in one of these trackers and are now actually put off by a sketchy article at best.
A snapshot of one of the charts fitbit produces
I can somewhat understand the point they are trying to make in the lack of scientific evidence supporting a 10,000 recommended daily step target but that’s the key, recommended. The articles all seem to lack the key point that every single app out there allows you to personalise your goals. There’s no scary electric shock for wearers if they dare top 10,000 steps and there’s also no punishment for those that don’t quite get there. These app developers know that not everyone shares the same fitness goals and they have made allowances for this, the articles do not.
I am far from the media’s biggest fan having recently boycotted the *Daily Fail* but it is honestly difficult to say who is at fault here. Not that long ago scientists and health researchers wanted the NHS to prescribe fitness trackers to obese patients, now the scientists say these apps are causing more harm than good? Is it simply our news outlets for putting a very very poor media spin on science and trying to scaremonger us all? Or are our journalists simply far too obedient to authority (Since this new health conscious information has come from a computer scientist no less?) It’s like bacon and roast potatoes causing The Big C, are we really subject to something new like this every month? In a dream world we could have someone like Dr. Ben Goldacre or a band of epidemiologists saying yes or no to what the media are actually allowed to publish when it comes to ‘science.’ Maybe that way we’d actually have peace of mind that everything is ok…

Northern Girl on… My favourite apps/social media feeds

My social media feeds and phone notifications are a great source of inspiration for me to get out and explore. Just this weekend we were able to complete a treasure hunt inside a museum thanks to a post we’d seen online (I’ll be blogging about that later.) So I want to take you through my London apps and favourite social media pages that allow me to explore and keep costs down.

A screen grab of my “London” folder on my phone featuring my dedicated London apps

  • Citymapper – A must. A great little app to help you get about, even if you only visit London it’s a great way to easily navigate your way around The City with the added bonus that you can use it in other cities such as Paris, Berlin and Barcelona making it easier to deal with any language barriers!
  • Santander Cycle Hire – I’ll be writing a post later about my love of Santander Cycles but this app makes them so easy to love. It tells you where your nearest hire points are and how many bikes/free spaces there are currently. These bikes are so cheap and actually a lot of fun to ride around, especially in parks such as Hyde Park and Victoria Park.
  • Fever – It’s a great little app that can tailor ‘your London’. Tell fever what you’re in to and they’ll notify you when things are happening that you’re interested in; from discounted theatre tickets to offers on Brick Lane market stalls they have so much choice all heavily discounted (chocolate strawberries for a fiver on Brick Lane!)
  • Circle – A bit more of a safety conscious one than anything, circle allows you to add key contacts which you can instantly message with an SOS and your location should you feel in danger at any point.
  • Drinki – My favourite of them all! Drinki basically entitles you to free drinks at a whole range of London bars. My local is Rum and Sugar at Canary Wharf and with the app you get a free Strawberry Mojito. In the app, redeem code CSPACEY1 to get an additional free drink. The app refreshes every 14 days = free drinks every couple of weeks! (Samsung users, I recommend searching “Drinki London” in GooglePlay.)
The Drinki app – redeeming the code and an example of one of the free drinks

  • Blue Plaques – Great for if you’re heading out for a walk, you could even create your own walking route (see previous post Walking Tours) and try and hit as many of the Blue Plaques near you.
  • Time Out – I love the team at Time Out. They’re great at posting regular articles on some of best and interesting things to do in London. They do it on a weekly basis and special posts when there are events on at the weekend. Definitely worth having the app and them on social media so you don’t miss a trick.
  • Londonist – This was is a bit more fun than cost saving. Like Time Out it’s a great little way to find interesting things to do from the locations inspired by Harry Potter to the best coffee shops in London, they cover a range of things. They also post regular videos with interesting features/trivia about the City (great pub quiz knowledge.)

Social Media:
In addition to the apps listed above, there are also a few more things that populate my news feed that I couldn’t live without when living in London:

  • 10 ways to have more money as a student, without working (10 Ways for short) – These guys are brilliant at sharing/posting when offers are currently on-going; be it cheap lunches, bargain reductions at super markets or amazon sales and glitches. Perfect for keeping your eye out on your ‘need to have items’ and bagging them at their lowest price.
  • Stylist & The Debrief – I follow both of these for the same reason, not only do they post great articles – I am a huge fan of the style of writing at The Debrief – but they also post articles on saving money, cheap and easy lunches and how to do city breaks on the cheap.
  • Secret London –  Similar to both Londonist and Time Out London, Secret London updates their page with great articles with interesting and unusual things to do in The Capital, it was a post here that enabled me to discover the museum treasure hunts!