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Forget the Diet. Take a Walk!

Posted August 8, 2018

I’m older than most of my readers, so don’t write me off as some young thing with an abundance of energy bursting forth from my youth. I’m probably quite a bit older than most of you and am someone for whom sports was never a passion. Consistent fitness has been a challenge throughout my life, with multiple fits and starts.

During the past few years, for some deep, dark reason, I have resisted regular exercise, although I would say I have been blessed with abundant energy, work full time, and am always on the go. Although I have known several people to get hooked on Fitbits, I have foolishly resisted getting one for myself. “Step zombies!” I have called Fitbit fans — those people whose entire world seems to revolve around the number of steps they can manage to cram into a lunch hour, or day, or week, or whatever. They seem compelled to tell you how many steps they counted on the way over to see you. They park far away from wherever you meet just so they can tally on more. Shut up about the steps, already!

But about two months ago, at one of our staff meetings at work, Forrest announced that there had been a huddle of what is now known as The Wellness Committee — Forrest, Jerene, and Christina — and after a test run by the committee members, it had been decided to purchase Fitbits for the whole staff of 15. I wanly responded with less than a full smile, “Oh, good . . . as I inwardly stifled my, “Oh, no, not a Fitbit!” All three “committee members” were already loving their little plastic sidekicks as they explored the blocks surrounding our Oakland high rise and began accumulating steps, miles, and muscle by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 10,000 steps in a day is said to be optimal; 5,000 is OK; many options in between will also have a positive impact on your health.

Christina took and then placed the Fitbit orders for the rest of us, each one different from the next. So many choices! In a week or so, we all were all digitally wired up (to our cell phones) and keeping track not only of our steps, flights of stairs, but our heart rates, calories burned, and “strenuous minutes of exercise.” Then at night, our tiny wrist companions measure our sleep! Our hours of sleep and quality of sleep — light sleep, restless sleep, deep sleep, and the prized and precious “REM” sleep, maybe two or three hours out of the total, during which we dream and the brain apparently “repairs” itself.

Because our fitness and sleep are both so critical to our health, and most people know more about fitness than sleep, Forrest ordered each of us a copy of the New York Times bestselling book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by UC-Berkeley Professor Matthew Walker, Ph.D. Honestly, I never wondered about why we sleep. I thought it was self-explanatory: um, we get tired?

Some teasers from the book cover have me more and more curious: 1. Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our lives; 2. The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep; 3. Inadequate sleepeven moderate reduction for just one weekdisrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic; 4. Routinely sleeping less than 6 – 7 hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. (!)

So we’re about two months in on our fun little experiment, and I am shocked and chagrinned to be able to report that I turned out to be pretty much of a pushover. I LOVE my Fitbit! I’m not going to bore you with the number of steps I’m averaging in a week (although I’m tempted). I do walk around feeling proud and wanting to tell people where I am in my step count for the day. I promise I won’t, though. Let me just say that without really altering my food intake, I’ve lost close to 10 pounds! I really do feel good: stronger, firmer, don’t hate walking uphill so much anymore, and have found that the more steps I get in a day, the better my sleep.

But my overall favorite thing about my Fitbit that I didn’t expect is that rather than making me feel bad about my level of exercise like I thought it would, I feel like I have a little friend with me all the time who notices all the exercise I actually do get in a day, keeps track of it for me, and lets me know what a good job I have done. If I do reach 10,000 steps in a day, for instance, vibrating fireworks go off on the wristband of my Fitbit, and I feel like jumping for joy.

One more thing: your cell phone keeps track of all the accumulating data by the week, compares it to your previous week’s totals, and with your age-related peers. Turns out that when compared to other women in my age range, my REM sleep is right up there close to the top. Instead of feeling guilty about not being fit enough (for whom?), I feel pretty damn good.

As you may have noticed in my blog over the past several years, I am someone who believes that the point of everything we do in life is to make a good life happen for ourselves, whatever that means to us. And if part of making a good life happen for you includes being able to sleep well, feel good, and have more energy, whatever else you may want to achieve, maybe a wearable activity tracker, like a Fitbit, can help. Happy stepping!

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