An activity epiphany: I’ve realised most apps on straps are rubbish

Step by step: Don’t let technology spoil the fun of the run. Getting fit means exercising; it doesn’t mean being a techno wizard

Whatever your exercise routine, a multibillion euro industry wants to accompany you. Photograph: Getty

Whatever your exercise routine, a multibillion euro industry wants to accompany you. Photograph: Getty

 

Have you ever Googled a minor ailment only to discover you’ve just minutes to live?

Maybe you’ve typed a common symptom into a search engine and found that you should ring an ambulance immediately because somewhere, someone’s last words were: “I thought I just had a runny nose.”

We’ve recently stumbled over a modern health craze. We’re calling it: “Worry yourself slim.”

And, as with everything now, it comes with an app firmly attached.

Many bits of software for the health and fitness market come in the form of gadgets strapped to limbs, or apps on smartphones. They are designed to track, monitor, collate, compare and analyse various bits of data that are either inputed by the user or determined by the device itself. I suspect the accessory often puts in more effort than the user.

It’s easy to become quickly addicted to any gizmo that promises to enhance every fitness and health endeavour. However, the addition of some fitness gadgets or apps may merely enhance the pain.

The industry has moved on from supplying gadgets that simply calculate the distance and pace of walkers, runners, cyclists and swimmers. At the press of a button, I can now tell how badly I slept, how immobile I am, what fruit I should have eaten, what crucial goal I’ve just missed, how my heart beats like a hummingbird’s under minimal exertion, and even the poor-quality air I’m breathing.

I’ve even seen one that sets off an alarm if the user dares to go an hour during daylight without walking.

And, due to the stress of knowing all that information, I also know how many calories are in the bar of chocolate I’m driven to devour.

Could anyone be happier knowing everything that’s wrong?

Whatever your exercise routine, a multibillion euro industry wants to accompany you. Doing it alone, apparently, will not provide the full benefit – though, ironically, we suspect the benefit of exercise for many is that it is, in itself, a method of getting away from the technology-driven fast-paced world for just a moment.

For those with a particular diagnosis, being able to wear a gadget that automatically tracks calories burned, or monitors glucose or heartbeat, has obvious and welcome benefits, presuming, of course, the information is accurate.

But for those without a diagnosis, now that we are carrying our smartphones everywhere, we can bring our worries with us too.

Hindrance or help

Earlier this year an article in the British Medical Journal tried to get to the bottom of health apps, and whether they are a hindrance or a help.

Scottish GP Des Spence argued the apps were “untested and unscientific” and opened the door to uncertainty. “Make no mistake: Diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people,” he said.

But then, perhaps these gadgets should simply be accepted for being purely motivational devices – obvious inaccuracies aside.

My favourite fitness app maps my walks, runs and cycles, recording when I’ve taken to some activity, where, for how long, and at what pace. Though not why.

It is ridiculously inaccurate, regularly claiming I have run through buildings, and across rivers. Once, I apparently cycled straight off a cliff.

And, every now and then, if I forget to turn it on, the immediate satisfaction of completing a run is shaken by it not being officially recorded on my phone.

Suddenly it felt like a complete waste of time. If the app didn’t record it, what was the point? Was there still a benefit?

And then, at the weekend, I noticed a feature on a recently acquired fitness gadget which offered advice on how to reduce stress.

Immediately coming to my senses, I took the gadget and found the nearest bin.It worked. 

Step by step
Intellectual approach to losing weight
Most apps on straps are rubbish
My daughter is trying to kill me
It’s not you, it’s me. Hold on, it’s you
You don’t have to turn into an ass
I met my next child’s godfather at a race
It’s tough when momentum runs out
No sweetness, and lite everything
Stopping the treadmill with your tummy
When it’s my turn to make dinner . . .
The kitchen table looks out for us
- Skinny friend eats like an elephant
Tomorrow we diet
How to get back into exercise
At what age do you fall apart?
I’d jog for wine
I’m a binge drinker
- What if losing weight makes you sad?
- 12 months later, time for health tips
- The ultimate global deception

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