Shropshire Star

How Google Fit has made me a slave to my phone

There are two ways of looking at my present situation. Taking a negative point of view, every joint of my body is aching. It takes a few seconds to steady myself every time I get out of a chair. And I seem to spend most nights falling asleep in a chair. On the other hand, my phone is pretty pleased with me.


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About a month ago, I discovered something called Google Fit. The programme, or 'app' as everyone calls them these days, had been on my phone since I received it as a gift the Christmas. But for 16 months it lay dormant in the inner bowels of my phone, along with YT Music, Calendar and Assistant, whatever they are. As far as I am concerned, a phone is predominantly for making and receiving phone calls, sending text messages, or maybe emails if I'm feeling adventurous.

However, as a few of you may know, I have been trying to look after myself since my heart attack three years ago.

I'm a regular at the hospital gym, and in order to make the most of the limited time at my disposal, I do my warm-up while waiting for a break in the traffic as I cross the road. Yes, if you've ever wondered who that weirdo is doing stretching exercises on the central reservation, it's probably me. And then, after chucking out time, I continue my regime at the 'outdoor gym' in the hospital grounds, much to the bemusement of passing medical staff finishing their shifts on dark, wet evenings.

It also means the days of buying food because I enjoy it have long been consigned to the dim and distant. It is here that I truly envy those annoyingly smug people who actually enjoy eating healthy food, who really look forward to tucking into a fruit salad, and don't half enjoy letting folk like me know about it. While they bore the pants of everyone talking about their virtuous lifestyle, I find myself squinting at the small print on the labels, searching for the elusive foodstuff that is both vaguely palatable and low in saturated fat. Occasionally, there are little victories: I mean, who thought there was such a thing as low-fat salt-and-vinegar pork crunch? Seriously, I have discovered a brand of pork-scratching derivative which is 3.9 per cent saturated fat, and 70.9 per cent protein. Now that's what I call a super-food. I'm sure the lady on the market thinks I'm barking mad when I buy up her entire stock on a Saturday, but when you've become accustomed to doing star jumps at the pelican crossing opposite the A & E unit, you tend to become immune to these little indignities.

Anyhow, after hearing everybody talking about their steps and their fitness 'apps', I became curious. Maybe I'm already getting more exercise than I realise? It even calculates 'heart points', and gives you a daily target. What's not to like?

Now a sensible, mature person would see Google Fit as a useful source of information, to be used for guidance purposes in context of a bigger picture. However, I'm an obsessively competitive and immature person who will brood for England at the merest hint of failing to achieve my goals. You can probably tell which way this is going.

The first problem is that my sessions at the gym do not earn me any heart points whatsoever. That may in part be due to the fact that 45 minutes using an arm ergometer, rowing machine or exercise bike does not involve much dynamic motion, but I think it is mainly down to the fact I leave my phone in the locker while I do it. So when I come out of the gym, and Google Fit accusingly tells me I have scored only three heart points today, there is only one response. A two-mile walk in the driving rain.

The other problem is that the way Google Fit awards heart points seems to be totally arbitrary. For example, walking half a mile from the car to an election hustings at 12.30pm earns me nothing whatsoever, but walking back to the car two-and-half hours later records a half-mile walk, and nine valuable points. Similarly, walking for miles around West Bromwich to avoid paying the parking charges yields me diddly squat, but a few yards around a building site to talk to Rachel Reeves gets me points on the board. There's just no rhyme or reason.

Yes, I know deep in my heart that Google Fit is just a novelty that shouldn't be taken entirely seriously. But failure to achieve a target is the sort of thing that drives me to distraction, and there's no way I'm letting my phone get one up on me.

After years of ridiculing young people for being slaves to their phones, I'm finally getting a taste of my own medicine.