Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Every time I read this poem, I imagine a solitary traveler, walking stick
in hand, standing by a split rail fence somewhere in North Georgia. Two
paths cross one another. One is a little overgrown with laurel and fiddle
head fern covered with dew, making it the more challenging route. The
wanderer weighs his choices and picks his path— the road less traveled.
There is a serenity to this poem that hearkens back to a time of walking
for the sake of exploration. Little could the narrator of this poem have
imagined the modern day adventurer; with the help of technology, every
step one takes is logged, synced, and data mined to evaluate trends and
goals. Most people these days, from elite athletes to weekend warriors,
have some tool to help them track their progress and analyze their movements.
And, most remarkably, this whole universe of information fits onto their
wrist. Robert Frost could hardly have created the same effect in this
poem if his speaker had stopped to check his GPS at this crucial intersection,
however, these days that is the most likely scenario should one have a
similar choice to make.
The evolution of sports technology
One of the first activity-monitoring gadgets to come on the scene was called
the Nike+Ipod sensor. It was oblong in shape and fit snugly in the arch
support of Nike running shoes. For runners, this was a break through because
it tracked pace and mileage. My wife jumped on the bandwagon and enjoyed
tracking her progress while training for a marathon. It became arduous
to take it out, plug it in, and sync the data. Also there was no feedback.
Last time I saw that little orange sensor, my cat was batting it under
the sofa. But at the time, it was a light year’s progress from checking
your watch and trying to gauge your pace per mile. It also tracked exact
distance, which my wife had previously tracked by driving her routes in
the car. It was not exactly accurate or convenient.
Since that milestone, there has been an explosion of fitness-training gizmos.
Apple has a fitness app on its watch. Other popular gadgets include the
Fuel Band, Up Band and the Garmin Watch. FitBit has a complete armamentarium
of watches, bracelets, and fitness tracking clips based on sport and preference.
All of these devices provide a spectrum of fitness tracking parameters
from step counting, heart rate, cadence, and pace to calories burned.
And oh, how we love to see those steps add up!
How many steps should you take?
All of these devices enhance our knowledge about what we are doing to and
for our bodies each day. If knowledge is truly power, then knowing how
active we are should empower each of us to set goals to be more active
if necessary. The average adult walks only about 5,900 steps daily. That’s
not very far. The CDC recommends about 150 minutes of moderate activity
a week, such as brisk walking. To meet this requirement, you need to walk
approximately 8,000 steps a day. These devices make their wearers accountable
by staying true to their goal. Ten thousand steps a day is a commonly
recommended goal for overall health and is attainable for most people,
but this can sound overwhelming to the beginner. The genius of these devices
though is that they not only track progress, but many of them encourage
it. My wife’s wrist will vibrate with a reminder if she is sedentary
for too long. That little push can make all the difference. When we get
busy or distracted, we often don’t realize that we aren’t
moving enough. The competitive nature of these devices encourages people
to park farther away from storefronts or take the stairs in an attempt
to increase their daily step count. It’s genius, and the proof is
in the soaring stock prices of the most popular products.
Having an electronic “score card” is another benefit of these
devices. Most of them sync via wifi or blue tooth to your phone and constantly
monitor your progress. Once a goal is met, there will be celebratory messages
to encourage the wearer. Also, all the information accumulated during
the week is sent to an email, so trends can be evaluated. Seeing a progress
report for a whole week is affirming for people and will often provide
the motivation they need to either stay on track or get back on it.
Trendy but necessary?
Of course, a fitness-tracking device is not necessary to exercise, and
I know people who have disavowed them. They can be expensive and they
do, for some individuals, take away from the experience they crave when
enjoying their favorite physical activities. Many people exercise in order
to “unplug” from technology and using an activity tracker
could be counter intuitive to that endeavor. But for folks who enjoy the
stats and data we never knew we needed to know (and this is most people
these days) it is both rewarding and challenging to see the numbers add
up and to take pride in reaching our activity goals. We should all have
the willpower and motivation to preserve our health by starting an exercise
program and sticking with it. If wearing a device on your wrist helps
towards that end, then I’m all for it. For most of us, life is busy
and tasks that are right in front of our face can overshadow other priorities,
like exercise, that will have far reaching benefits but can be easily
dismissed for another day. Sometimes a little prompting, even if it comes
in the form of a digitized wristband, can put you on the right path, and
that can make “all the difference.”
Remember we’re all in this together. I’ll see you on the trail.