Fitness tracking is all very well, but is it making you crazy?

11 September 2016 - 02:00 By Shanthini Naidoo

There may soon be a stress app to measure the anxiety caused by apps that count your stepsAn 80-year-old fitness fundi recently shared how she was so determined to achieve her goal of 10,000 steps a day, that she risked being mugged, or dislocating her hip by walking on the uneven pavements around the city."If I can't get out, I strip the 11 pieces of linen off my bed and walk each one to the washing machine. I get at least 3,000 steps just by washing my linen," she said.Fitness tracking has become a way of (healthy) living for many who previously did not count their steps and who have now found ways to do it. Notice how many people jog on the spot?story_article_left1Whether for fitness points or personal achievement, tracking has become almost as obsessive as doing the physical work.The trackers are brilliant for anyone who enjoys reams of figures noting weekly fitness reports that remind (or reprimand) them of their levels of activity.Being a non-committed sort, I opted for a tracker on my cellphone. It quickly became addictive. A little cheer for every goal achieved ... except when you walk somewhere but leave your phone behind.I started to consider steps to fetch the device as wasted and became resentful that the steps weren't adding to the daily count, cursing the thing when it said 90% of goal achieved at the end of the day. "But I did those when I went to the loo!"An active woman, who easily achieves 8,000 steps by midday and often double that by nightfall on weekdays, was surprised to find that after rock climbing she had not yet met the goal."Climbing vertically doesn't count. To rack up my 10,000 steps total, I paced back and forth on the deck while my friends were drinking beer at sunset."Clinton Gähwiler, a psychologist with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, explains: "Shakespeare apparently once said, 'Things are not good or bad, but thinking makes them so.' And so it is with all psychological stressors - it is not they which stress us directly, but rather the perceptions that we hold of them.Regular physical activity does indeed help 'buffer' us against the effects of stress. If people get too competitive, either with others or with themselves, around their physical activity, this can indeed become a source of stress in itself. Are trackers slightly defeatist in their objective of creating fitness if they cause step envy or calorie-counting stress? "It's important for us all to be clear about the meaning which physical activity holds for us in life. Be it for health, as a forum for socialising, a source of self esteem, etc."Once you have clarity in that regard, your challenge is then to ensure that your approach towards exercise is in keeping with this motive. In other words competition is fine if the thrill of it is what you're after. But if it's actually about relaxation for you, then perhaps counting your steps is not the best idea," said Gähwiler.So are food and fitness trackers slightly defeatist in their objective of creating fitness if they cause step envy or calorie-counting stress?Well, there is an app for that, too.The next wave of tracking is stress counters, "innovative wearables" that will measure and counter stress.story_article_right2Apple has a Breathe Apple Watch app with the latest version of its fitness-tracking watch. The stylish Vinaya Zenta, a biometric bracelet that tracks fitness but also has sensors to study your emotions. (Perhaps banging of the forehead on your desk or a punch action, is an indicator of stress?)It will show you how to calm down with its "actionable insights" into what you are doing every day that is causing negative emotion or stress build-up.Then there's Galvanic Skin Response which detects electrodermal response. Using movement, blood volume pressure and skin temperature, it determines your stress state and pings on your phone to tell you to calm the hell down.Another device, Thync, is an arrow-shaped thing worn on the forehead and can transmit happy thoughts to your brain. Don't even ask the cancer or fashion questions, the good vibes surely dispel any illness or negative energy.The Prana device clips onto your belt buckle and betters your posture.But hold out for WellBe, a stress therapy device and app that will tell you if certain people or locations trigger stress by analysing your data.

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