Few Clouds 35° Good Evening
Few Clouds 35° Good Evening
OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

An addictive buzz that's getting me fit

Michael Dobie typing on his computer with his

Michael Dobie typing on his computer with his FitBit on his right wrist. Photo Credit: Amanda Fiscina

It's hard to get through a day without someone suggesting you change your behavior. Stop smoking, lose weight, start exercising, stop texting, be charitable, slow down, pitch in. The list is endless.

And change isn't easy. Otherwise we wouldn't have entire industries employing all sorts of weapons devoted to it.

Advertising, counseling, public service messages, penal codes, hypnosis, red-light cameras, rehab facilities, that certain tone of voice only your mother has -- all designed to get you to do something you haven't been doing, or once did but have stopped, or never have any intention of doing even if you know the temperature in hell is dropping below 32 degrees tomorrow.

All I needed was a Fitbit.

For the uninitiated, a Fitbit is a wristband with a computer chip that tracks how much you walk or run, among other things, by measuring your arm swing. Our corporate parent, Cablevision, doled them out recently to any employee willing to enter a competition that involves logging 250,000 steps in five weeks and thereby becoming eligible for unknown prizes.

Now, usually I get grumpy about this kind of thing. It's not the goal I object to. I'm in reasonably good shape, though not where I'd like to be, which also is known as the universal human condition.

What bugs me more is the expectation of conformity. But you sign up for this competition as a team and my comrades on the editorial board are on board. I never want to let them down so I caved in the face of implicit peer pressure.

And now I'm hooked.

Fitbit recommends 10,000 steps a day, it turns out, and when you hit that mark the Fitbit vibrates, a more pleasurable sensation than I would have imagined. But my little friend is a stern and mocking taskmaster. I come home at night, sync it with my iPhone, and watch anxiously as my progress is calculated. And then it sneers: 4,375 steps, you slackard.

That's when the change-behavior thing kicks in. Most nights now, my wife and I head out for a brisk walk and catch up on the day's events while waiting for my right wrist to tingle. Usually, that's enough.

Then there are the other days. Let's face it, you don't exactly rack up the mileage sitting at a computer keyboard. So I look for an edge.

I no longer walk up stairs two steps at a time, fearful my effort will be undercounted. I've shortened my stride to increase my arm swings.

It's not like I'm obsessive.

So what if I speed-walked around my kitchen table for 17 minutes one night to nail down the final 1,375 steps. The Giants were on the TV. I got to watch them from different angles.

So what if we got home from babysitting my grandson one night at 10:55 and discovered I was more than 2,000 steps short. We wore white, hit the streets, and dodged every startled driver.

So what if I paced around the house during a half-hour phone conversation with my father, then cussed when I realized at some point I had switched the phone to my now-stationary right hand.

So what if I was a little annoyed when my grandson decided one morning he didn't want to take a walk to check out the train that comes by at 7:26 a.m. That was 1,600 steps. Lost.

It's not as if I'm parking in more distant lots just to pile up the extra steps into the office, like colleagues on other teams.

But I do find myself marveling at how quickly this little thing has changed me. And now that I've switched my mug to my left hand on the walk back from the cafeteria so my right hand can keep swinging, I'm thinking it's going to be permanent.