I’m a good little doobie. When the voice of authority tells me do something, I do it. Even when that voice is distant (I never call anyone after 10 p.m., per my mother’s directive circa 1966). Even when that voice is discredited (I still make the sign of the cross when I’m flustered despite leaving the Catholic Church 35 years ago). Even when that voice is electronic. When Apple reminds me to upgrade my software, I log in and load up.
I don’t like upgrades. They shuffle my icons. I have to go into Settings and learn all over again how to make them squiggle, so I can push all the new ones I don’t want to the back and retrieve my favorites to the main screen.
Two upgrades ago a small white icon appeared with a little red heart in the upper left corner. “You need that one, it monitors your health,” my friend Chuck told me. I didn’t think I needed anything to monitor my health. I ward off Prozac by exercising twice as much as anyone I know and then eating twice as much dessert. However, since Chuck has a deep, authoritative voice, I tapped on the heart. Up popped requests to input my weight, my sleep, my calories. No way was I going to insert the calorie count of the pint of Talenti Sea Salt Caramel Gelato I had just devoured after yoga into my permanent electronic memory. But one set of statistics required no input. My new app counted my steps and then graphed them by the day and week. No input, cool data, I was hooked.
I’m familiar with the 10,000 steps a day strategy to health. Given my weakness for ice cream I decided to aim for that mark. Forget that every week I already go to the gym three times, take seven or eight yoga classes, and teach two more. I just added a new objective: 10,000 daily steps.
In less than two days, casual counting became an obsession. I began charging my phone overnight so it could rest in my pocket all day and never miss a movement. I analyzed my most frequent walks. I take almost 2,000 steps a day just inside my house, the benefit of an old Victorian with a zillion stairs. It’s only 800 steps to ride my bike to yoga, but 3,000 if I walk. Cycling to the gym registers 2,200 steps. Harvard Square is 4,000 steps away; but it’s over 5,000 when I walk all the way to the Y.
All of this step counting was crazy, especially since so much of it happened to and from places of exercise, but I was in the thrall of my app. During our harsh winter I couldn’t bicycle for weeks, so I walked everywhere. I logged 14,000 step days, even 18,000 step days. When my son Andy and I walked Plum Island for his research project, I took over 22,000 steps.
In no time the idea of 10,000 steps a day evolved from an average to a minimum required. One night, when my pedometer indicated 9,236 steps, I paced the second floor thirty or forty times while brushing my teeth so I could pass the magic five-digit mark. I made it past 10,000, but later, in bed, reckoned that I’d gone too far. Walking no longer had anything to do with moving from one place to another. It wasn’t even about health; it was just an exercise in counting. The next day I rebelled by only walking 6,000 steps. Slouching off made me sluggish.
Last week I volunteered to be part of an Alzheimer’s study. I filled out questionnaires and took baseline memory tests, which will have follow-ups every few months. In exchange for my participation I received a free membership to digifit MVP. More advanced than my Apple health app, it can give me fitness assessments, advanced heart rate analyses, and compare me against others. I perused the app, wondered whether it monitored a control group of others who ate ice cream by the pint, and closed it out. It wouldn’t make me any healthier, just more neurotic.