Step up for a healthy challenge, but cheat if the pace is too hot

| Nury Vittachi 14 May 2018

Many folk stupidly spend their lives trying to impress other people when what they should really be doing, of course, is trying to impress their step-counters.

Smartphone health apps and Fitbit-style wristbands not only monitor your activity level but constantly encourage you to post it on the internet for the world to see. So of course people become competitive about never letting a single step go uncounted.

In one online discussion, a reader from Mumbai lamented: "I lost my Fitbit so now I can't move."

If you are a step-counting addict, here are four ways to boost your score:

1) Put your Fitbit in your child's pocket and then feed him or her a sugary snack.

2) Every time you hear music indulge your inner Barenboim by conducting it.

3) Hang the thing on your dog's collar and send it on a run around the park.

4) Get a ladder and hang your Fitbit from the ceiling fan.

The most attractive advice I ever got was: if you eat three meals a day at buffet-style restaurants your Fitbit will think you are an exercise nut. Now that's an exercise program I could really go for.

People who lead on website-based health pages are recording 80,000 steps a day each -- which is pretty impressive since running an entire marathon only gets you about 45,000 steps.

How do you achieve pace-setting scores?

I became interested in this after a someone wrote to me about a restaurant in Harbin that provides a "fool your step counter" gadget service to patrons. You stick your phone, Fitbit or pedometer into a little cradle, which swings it around while you eat, drink and sleep.

On Chinese web-shopping pages, there are now hundreds of these devices for sale.

Now I know what you're thinking: why fool a device that makes you healthier? What if you are not a stupid, immoral egotist who hates exercise? (Such people exist, allegedly.)

Well, there are folk who justify cheating with specific arguments.

"Some health insurance firms offer a discount for active people who can prove they walk 10,000 steps a day," says reader Derya Bey.

"And some schools in China require a minimum amount of active movement every day from each student."

The alternative, of course, is to actually do some exercise, and certain people need to. One rather overweight male friend of mine, referring to Japanese electronic pets, remarked: "Step-counters are like Tamagotchis. The only stupid creature you have to keep alive is yourself."

And then of course, there are the people who earn high scores accidentally. I know of a woman who put her step-counter through a washing machine and drier, and it credited her with climbing 84 flights of stairs that day.

Warning: Use health apps too much and your brain starts to perceive them as judgmental finger-pointers. One colleague got such a low score one day that she faked an illness and went to bed early so her Fitbit wouldn't judge her.

If you don't want to get into that sort of situation I hope you'll be sensible about your use of health apps.

In which case I'll see you at the buffet table!

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