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Dec 9, 2015

Drop Dead Fitness

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The checkup started really well. Blood pressure was right on track, blood oxygen was apparently great and my heart rate was, as usual, as slow as an athlete’s. There was just one problem: I'm not much of an athlete. Not that I'm unhealthy: I windsurf when the weather is warm and windy, and get out on a bicycle every now and then. Heck, I've even been known to break into a gentle run on special occasions. But I'm not deluded enough to think I'm in top shape.

Deluded no, but the fact that my heart rate was so “athletic” felt really good, and irritated the heck out of some of my friends who had far more mundane paces. Suckers. My fitness tracker helped encourage me, tracking my progress and making me feel really darn smug about my resting heart rate in particular, which was really low. In short, I was so calm it was almost glacial, especially at night.

Back at my check up, the technician was impressed. “You clearly don't have much stress in your life,” he said. “So what brings you into the office today?”

And that's when we started to talk about the chest pains that had been getting increasingly worse, despite the great heart rate and the number of steps I hit on a daily basis. Twenty-four hours and three stents later, I'm a little less impressed with my previous heart rate, which was not so much athletic as it was slowly giving up its valiant efforts to pump blood through some pretty messed up arteries. Whoops!

And there lies the rub with fitness devices as they become more advanced, at least in terms of functionality. With great functionality comes great responsibility, as Spider-Man said (sort of). It is too easy for the middle aged idiot (that would be me) to believe that all is okay based on this very incomplete evidence. And let's face it, I am the ideal market for the current range of fitness devices; the 35-55 age group is the most likely to buy into these devices in the first place, not with the aspiration of becoming athletes, but rather so we can maintain a level of health that will see us into an active retirement one day. And that's fine as long as the activity tracker is used as an additional tool rather than as a replacement for doctor visits (which I will blame on a northern English upbringing where anything short of an arm falling off would sort itself out if you just gave it time…please refer to the idiot comment earlier).

But let's be clear, I'm not turning against my fitness tracker; far from it, as I clearly need it more than ever as I plan a recovery regime that will get me tuned up before the next windsurfing season (always look for a way to the next chapter even if the dream is a rerun of prior fun). But what I need from my device now is a rehabilitation regime, a realistic “so you just messed up your heart, let's start again” guide; and as far as I can see, this is still missing. There’s a lot of talk about wearables entering the health segment, rather than just being a fitness device, but if the nurses at my hospital are any example, they have little idea as to what the fitness tracker even does or how they could incorporate it into the bounce back plan.

Such a plan has to clearly focus as much on diet as it does on steps, and that is something that most wearable apps do focus on, but again not necessarily from the health/recovery segment as much as from the fitness side. It also highlights the ongoing gap in the wearables arsenal as the calorific input is still a voluntary guesstimate by the user. And so that's what I will be looking for at CES this year; not another 100 Fitbit or Jawbone replicas at lower prices, but a more intelligent calorie tracking solution that will (metaphorically) smack me round the back of my head if I stray off my diet. Actually a real smack round the head might suit me better…

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