Forget throwing the gauntlet. My dad and I didn’t need a gauntlet to kick off a friendly competition over our everyday fitness routines. We had Fitbits instead — and you know you need to get more exercise when your dad starts lording his daily steps over you. (If Oedipus’d had one, maybe he could have channeled his rage into something more productive.)
The competition had started quietly. Actually, it’s possible I was being set up. Around Halloween last year, my dad asked me if I thought he should buy my mother a Fitbit for Christmas. She walks the dog every day, and she’s impossible to buy gifts for, so the idea made sense. “Why not?” I asked. “They sound cool, I guess.” After all, you can only give someone so many sweaters.
Or maybe there’s no limit on sweaters. Sometime between Halloween and Christmas my dad’s plan changed: mom got the sweater after all, and I was the one who ended up with a shiny new Fitbit Charge HR in my stocking — matching the Fitbit that my dad had already bought himself. “Cool,” I thought. Then I had some more egg nog and forgot about it.
A few days later, though, I heard the Fitbit calling to me, and decided to give it a try. The recommended ten thousand steps didn’t sound like that many — I figured I was probably getting that many without even trying a lot of the time. My first day Fitbit, though, the miniscule bar in my stats window proved me wrong. “A fluke,” I figured. But a few weeks later, I found myself religiously checking my stats every day, always with underwhelming results — I was maxed out at around five thousand steps, and my poor Buffalo Sabres had a better shot at the playoffs than I had of getting to 30 active minutes.
Meanwhile, my dad was stepping his way to total fitness. “Tired of getting your butt kicked by your old man yet?” he’d joke as he came in after a walk, casually flaunting his seven thousand steps for the day. His twenty-seven active minutes. His ten sets of stairs. He was playing it off as a joke — mostly — but at some point, I felt myself going into game mode. Dad might have been kicking my ass, but he didn’t know what he was getting into. This was war.
I don’t know if it had always been his intention to create the kind of competition that would get me off the couch or it just happened naturally. Either way, with my Fitbit on my wrist, I got serious about getting in shape. I built myself a meal plan that would see me shaving off 10 pounds over the next few months. I legitimately felt guilty when I went to bed without hitting my 10,000 step goal, knowing that my father (note: he’s old) was way ahead of me. I didn’t need a gadget to tell me I should be getting more exercise, but seeing the hard numbers gave me the structure my diet and fitness regime needed. The data provided the impetus I needed to actually get myself off the couch. And my dad provided the competition.
Because apparently the self-motivation thing isn’t one of my specialties. Without a gym companion there to push me, my previous attempts at “exercising” had always turned quickly into “another hour playing video games.” Fortunately, my friendly Fitbit — along with my dad’s ragging — filled that role. And really, it wasn’t that different from a video game: the green progress bars on the dashboard showed that I was getting closer and closer to my goals. Finally I felt like I was beginning to understand what this whole “exercise” thing was all about.
Slowly, the competition began to fade. Somewhat. Dad and I still compared steps, and gave each other grief when we beat each other, but it wasn’t the bloodbath it had been at first. We cheered each other’s new badges and progress, talked about how shocked we were at our sleep patterns (we were both weirdly restless throughout the night), and discussed how work impacted our heart rates. At first, I’d check my heartbeat graph after an especially stressful presentation and see a spike, but over time, as I got in better shape, I noticed that my resting heart rate began to decline.
Maybe the most important reason that things changed is that I won. My father was crushed. Luke Skywalkered. But my father was no longer the only person I had to consider: I had steadily climbed to around eight-thousand steps a day, but my co-workers ten-thousand, thirteen-thousand, and even fifteen-thousand a day averages were still well above mine. I had hit ten thousand steps three times. (In the transcript of my inner monologue, this is spelled: “THREE TIMES!!”) I wanted more.
It was time to kick into an even higher gear. I went from hitting the recommended ten thousand steps on rare occasions to making it my Everest. I started going on daily walks around the office to squeeze in a few more steps. When my days were packed with meetings I’d put in another 30 minutes on the treadmill. Instead of having a fourth 400 calorie slice of pie I’d…
Uh, I mean… I got motivated. My father’s competition, and my Fitbit, were just the kick in the pants I’d needed to genuinely start a healthier routine. I haven’t become a gym rat, and haven’t hit my “perfect” weight goal. I’ve just started getting a little healthier every day, one step at a time. Put it this way: last night, at 11:30, I found myself pacing in the parking lot, diligently trying to get those last thousand steps in. And I didn’t think twice about how crazy that was.
Basil Inferrera is a graduate of UCONN, copywriter, Buffalo native, and Mario Kart master. He currently lives and works in Connecticut.