Sport Is Something We Do Together

This week I watched videos by Rosianna Halse Rojas and Hannah Witton discussing Anna Kessel’s new book, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives. Rosianna and Hannah discuss the role that exercise and sport have played in their lives and since watching their videos I’ve been thinking about what it means to do sport together, especially as young women.

Tuesday was the last day of school for public school students in my town and the kids started getting home around 11:30am. My sixteen year old brother got off the bus, quickly ate a haphazard lunch, and then hopped on his bike to hang out with his friends from the crew team at a park near our house. Based on what he tells me as he digs through the garage, they’re going to play some ultimate frisbee and then probably lay around in the grass. They started this frisbee habit last summer, meeting up after practice had ended to be together and run around.

Social experiences for me as a teenage girl were always very sedentary – friendships were built around sitting and talking. We went on some walks at a rail trail or maybe strolled through the mall, but there was never a group of us running around playing. Teenage girlhood meant talking and delicately snacking, not diving for discs in an open field. Read More

Letting My Body Be

In the first week of October last year, I had the first uncomfortable tinglings of a sore throat. How do I know this? Because in the journal I was struggling to keep up with, I wrote four pages about it. About the specific pain and symptoms I was experiencing at first, but these thoughts quickly spiraled into an anxious rumination –

How bad was this cold going to be? How was I going to be able to go to class for the next few days? Should I try to sleep an exorbitant amount now to head it off or should I get ahead on my schoolwork now in case I get way worse over time? How did I drop my constant vigilance, letting myself get sick? I’m going to miss out on things I love this week and it’s my own fault. Read More

Driver/Passenger

I was a little late to get my driver’s license, waiting until the summer before college. A mean instructor the previous December had made me cry and I avoided driving lessons for months until I realized there wouldn’t really be a better time to do this. I had spent the last two years of high school taking the bus home from school and being driven around town by my friends.

I love the passenger seat of a car. All those used Honda Civics and Toyota RAV4s  (and one 1992 BMW) blend together now, but I loved the sound of a car pulling into my parents drive way. I loved climbing into the passenger seat as my friend shoved all her bags and receipts and water bottles into the back to make room for me. I loved not worrying about whether we were taking the fastest route or whether there would be a good parking spot close to Panera.

Eventually I got my license and brought my grandfather’s old Chevy Prizm to college with me my sophomore year. Because I went to college in my hometown for a while and didn’t drink, I was the de facto driver for most of our grocery store and concert excursions. I didn’t mind; I liked the feeling of being needed, knowing that the trip probably wouldn’t happen without me. Even after I got in a fender bender in the rain after dropping my friends off at the comic book store, being the driver made me feel important and valued.

I felt like I had a debt to pay after those years of my friends driving me to basketball games and debate practice and graduation parties. When I went to a new college with a dearth of public transit options, I readily volunteered to drive people to the train station (while the school advertises it as being 30 minutes away, it is definitely closer to 45). People I was desperately trying to be friends with, people who happened to live on my floor. I helped friends move their belongings into a summer storage unit or drove groups to a pizza shop birthday party. I picked up long-distance boyfriends  and dropped off friends of friends of friends at the bus station.  My small car with squeaky brakes and an occasionally expired inspection sticker put on quite a few miles.

Now at home my sister is still learning to drive, getting ready for her driver’s test in a few weeks. When I am sick with an undiagnosed virus, I lie in the passenger seat of my car as she lurches us up and down Route 9 to make the 40 minute drive to the doctor’s office. A friend from high school stops by my house and I climb into her Jeep to run errands at the library. Every weekend I go grocery shopping with my dad, in control of the radio station as we zip around town.

I drive the carpool for my brother’s friends but never quite relaxing, brusquely telling my brother to remind me which backroad turn to take. My sister needs a ride to her job interview and is uneager to drive through the maze of one way streets. My dad has developed a desire to have someone else drive so that he can look out the window, commenting on every changing storefront or new for sale sign.

I think that those trips to the train station up and down 91 have paid off my driving debt. I love sharing my city with a friend, driving her up and down the side streets past the stores and schools I’ve loved. But I more appreciate every time I clamber into a Honda CRV or Hyundai Sonata, glad to be in the passenger seat of my friend’s car.

Does Having a FitBit Make You Healthier?

Data will save us all! The combination of data and immediate feedback has the power to change our habits, saving us from inactivity! Data! Feedback! Monitor your biostats!

I’ve had a FitBit for a month now and have been thinking about how my mindset and lifestyle have changed as a result of having these biostatistics at the ready.

I got my FitBit Charge HR with some of my dad’s airlines miles that were about to expire. This model is different from the original one in that there is a small display on the wrist-band, which shows the time and date as well as whatever statistics you’ve selected. The defaults are daily steps, current heart rate, miles, calories burned, and flights of stairs climbed.

While I was excited to be counting my daily steps as a barometer for daily activity, I was apprehensive about having my calories burned so readily displayed on my wrist. While I don’t have a history of eating disorders or severe body-image issues, I do know that I have some compulsive tendencies and that having such a loaded statistic so present in the forefront of my mind could easily lead to some unhealthy behavior with regards to restrictive eating or excessive exercise. I disabled that statistic from the wristband display and tried to adjust the settings so that the calorie counter wouldn’t be prominently displayed in the app on my phone.

The part of me that’s a conspiracy theorist (or just conscious citizen of the digital age) is concerned about where this data is going. Is FitBit selling the data and profile stats to insurance companies to get more information about people who fit my description? Are they selling it to advertisers (though I’m not sure what advertisers would do with it)? I’m obviously not concerned enough about this to have done significant research before I got this device, nor did I read the privacy information before clicking accept, but it is something that’s on my mind.

Since then, I’ve been focusing on steps. The recommended daily goal, which FitBit presumably adopted from the American Heart Association, is 10,000 steps. I assumed that I would be easily hitting this goal every day, since I think of myself as an active person who goes for frequent walks and moves around a lot in regular household activities.

Boy, was I in for a surprise. The past few months I’ve been living in my parent’s house while I apply for jobs after college. I spend most of the day alone and don’t necessarily leave the house (besides walking the dog) on any particular day. Despite this, I apparently had deluded myself that my steps to take out the garbage and see if anything new had appeared in the fridge would add up to 10,000. Instead, my daily step count on a weekday hovers around 6,500 and this includes a nightly walk around the block (1 mile).

Weekends are much more active, which is something I think I already knew. I spend Saturdsays and Sundays running errands with my parents and getting in and out of the car and walking around grocery stores adds a lot more steps than you might think. Couple this with an additional walk around the block and I easily hit 10,000 on the weekends, often by mid-afternoon.

The heart-rate monitor has also been interesting to see in action. When I was a freshman in college, I spent a lot of time at the gym, sometimes swimming but often on an elliptical (hey, I didn’t have friends and hated my classes – it was a way to kill time and get out stress). Ellipticals often have heart-rate monitors on the handbars, though of dubious accuracy. The little pictograph on the machine advised getting your heart rate above at least 145bpm to be getting a real cardio workout. I’m sure this goal was based on science, though my heart rate seemed to be 100 bpm or 170bpm with no in between. Now, with my FitBit pressed against my wrist, I can check my heartrate any time. Right now for example it’s 82bpm (obviously low as I am sitting here typing). Most of the time my heartrate is correlated with my level of activity as it should be, but sometimes it is very high relative to what I’m doing. I was showing my uncle the heart rate monitor component while sitting next to him at a post-graduation lunch. It said that my heart was beating 117 bpm. My uncle remarked on how high this was, and I could not tell if this was a defect or if anxiety and stress was really elevating my heart rate that much (for reference, a resting heart rate is typically between 60 and 100 bpm). Perhaps I really am that stressed out and am reluctant to recognize this indicator for what it is.

Around the same time I got the FitBit I also started training in Krav Maga. I was interested to see if the FitBit would incorrectly register my punches as steps. However, the classes are loud and intense and require a lot of focus so I haven’t yet done a lot of testing about whether it is actually making that error. I do know that I get a lot of steps in during that hour long class, and since I’m using steps as a barometer for overall activity I’m happy with that.

I wish I could say that I’ve been using this bioinformation to change my lifestyle and incorporate more activity into my daily life. A bad virus recently knocked me out of commission for a week plus and I’d like to use that as an excuse but I know that even before this illness I was just as sedentary as I was with any other level of information. If I know that I’m close to 10,000 to steps, say it’s 7pm and I’m at 8,500, then I will make the effort to get out for another walk (or play basketball in my driveway or just pace around the house). But if it’s been a low-activity day and I’m still around 5,000 or 6,000 steps I won’t make the effort that evening, nor have I been approaching the next day with the intent to beat the previous day’s stats. This is of course on my long list of ~self-improvement~ goals but we’ll see if I find it meaningful.

I definitely fall into the trap of thinking that one device or app is going to radically better the way I’m living my life, whether it’s a planner at Staples or an iPhone or the to-do list app that I’m currently searching for. The data is not what’s important, it’s what you do with it. As a rational person would expect, the FitBit did not significantly change my lifestyle. This is on me, the data didn’t change my life because I didn’t do anything with the data. I do feel that I now know important information that can guide me in making those lifestyle changes when I’m ready, easily displayed on my wrist.