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The heart-racing rush of fooling the fitness watch

By Aileen Quigley - 19th Feb 2023

The watch police haven’t yet learned a high heart rate doesn’t always mean exercise

My children always write, “… and a surprise!”, at the end of their letter to Santa. They ask for a load of things that they really want and then they add that little bit of mystical hope at the end, imagining the endless possible wonders that Santa might choose to stuff into their stocking on a whim.

Adults don’t really receive surprise Christmas presents though, do we? We ask each other, “So, what do you want then?”, and we have to wrack our own brains to come up with something attainable, yet interesting, that we might like to see on our laps on Christmas Day. Many of us fall into the truly dismal habit of buying our own presents for ourselves, then handing them to our partner to wrap and put under the tree. (I won’t even begin to address the horror that is doing the wrapping yourself).

Anyway, in a new low, I decided that the present my family should give me in 2022 was a fitness watch. My physiotherapist had told me I should use a heart rate monitor to gauge my exercise tolerance, which would help me to avoid an even earlier death by encouraging me to get off my arse and MOVE. She had told me this about a year ago; as usual, the pre-contemplation phase of my ‘cycle of change’ was particularly lengthy.

So, I decided to join the hordes of #NewMe types soon after 25 December, armed with the second-cheapest branded “active wristwear” or whatever they call it, which sent me into sensory-overload orbit because it was so bulky and uncomfortable. I fiddled with the settings so that I could work out my SpO2 (useful for someone with a paranoia about pulmonary emboli) and checked for potentially fatal arrhythmias every time I drank a coffee. I discovered that this little device could tell me when my period is due (though I think I foiled it by having two Mirenas). It could analyse my sleep, but only if I wore it all night (interestingly, it seemed not to notice that I spent all night lying rigidly awake wondering if it was working). It asks me periodically, “How are you feeling?”, and I swear if it could patronisingly tilt its head at me, it would. It wanted me to tell it what I was eating, to the gram; the day I start weighing fig rolls is the day I know my life is devoid of all meaning.

The whole reason for getting it, though, was the little bizzy-buzz it jolts into my wrist when it notices that the aforementioned arse-sitting has gone on too long. It flashes little messages at me to ‘Get Up and Move’. Being a good little rule-abiding doctor, I am incapable of ignoring it. So, in the middle of an online meeting, I find myself suddenly leaping to my feet, and then realise my colleagues are looking strangely at me. I pretend I am reaching for a book on the shelf, or picking up a pen from the floor. Then I turn off the camera and frantically run on the spot for 20 second to satiate the beast on my wrist, before sitting demurely again in front of the camera and hope that no one can hear the unfit wheezes leaking out of my chest.

What I have discovered, however, is that the wrist police equate high heart rate with vigorous exercise. How pleased was I when I discovered that when I spoke up at a meeting where I knew no one, my social anxiety led the watch to believe that I had been doing jumping jacks for 10 minutes (I can tell it is unfamiliar with my pelvic floor’s inadequacies). Also, my habit of listening to feminist podcasts while cleaning the bathroom means that my resting heart rate is around 120 while I’m scrubbing the toilet. Who knew that outrage and Domestos were the key to an effective workout? I listened to the audiobook of Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, and this kept my weekly ‘activity’ well above the recommended 150 minutes.

I do realise that I may have missed the whole point of getting the bloody thing, but I am still delighted with myself when it pings at me that I have achieved my goals, and I giggle away about how clever I am to have duped it. And, of course, if I have actually managed to walk the sanctified 10,000 steps, I am so smug I can barely speak.

I think next time I might try asking for a surprise.

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