–by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: March 05, 2019

Walking buddies Val Morris and Michael Bonnar appear to be taking a leisurely stroll. Do not be fooled by appearances. Both have full-blown FDI (Fitness Device Insanity) and average 20,000 steps daily.

I am thrilled to report that after four years, three months and a few days, I have walked the length of Africa. Unfortunately, or thankfully, depending on your perspective, it is only figuratively. Unlike my daughter, who lived in a hut sans running water or toilet outside of Kenya one summer, I completed the 5,000 miles on the North American continent. It all began when I strapped an innocent looking device around my wrist, commonly known as a Fitbit, on Dec. 26, 2015. My life has never been the same since. At first, it was so fun and rewarding to see how many miles, steps, stairs and active minutes Nala (my ‘retrieving golden’ pup) and I accomplished daily. However, without warning, my inner competitive evil twin emerged from my once sane brain. To save others from the same fate, I am sharing a few simple guidelines to avoid Fitness Device Insanity [FDI].

You do not have to earn EVERY badge
Earning badges may become addictive, especially for former Eagle Scout, over-achieving fathers. I had the daunting task of informing my Dad (said Eagle) that the badges he was patiently waiting to receive via the US Postal Service were only going to be displayed digitally on his phone or laptop. I must admit, I am also guilty of getting excessively excited over badges. I had an adrenaline rush when I earned my first badge, the ‘March of the Penguin’ lifetime mile award. I received this honor for having walked 70 miles, the same distance as Empire penguins annually trek to mate. At first, I questioned whether I would walk the same span if in intense, life-threatening conditions, to mate. Even if there was a guarantee of a nice, normal, employed flightless male waiting for me, I don’t know if I would make that journey. If I could possibly be devoured by a killer whale, the mate better be amazing. I quickly moved on to another thought, a dangerous one, of pondering how many additional badges I could acquire. Keep things in perspective people. There is not going to be an award ceremony at the end of the year. That being said, did I tell you I just got my Africa Badge?
Be cautious when challenging others with FDI
I was asked to join a daily challenge for total number of steps per day by my dear friend who also suffers from FDI. I received a notification that I was in the lead and within minutes I received a text from her saying, “Not for long my lovely friend.” I am, of course, paraphrasing. She also would go on our accounts, see how many steps I had acquired, and at 11:30 p.m. head out to walk her dog long enough to put her in the lead (aka annihilate me) by midnight. For the sake of our friendship, we decided to return to bonding over red wine and baked goods and no longer participate in step challenges.

FDI is highly contagious
I decided to give my device to my Dad for the weekend to take a break. I spent the weekend at my friend’s cottage where we took a long hike. Instead of enjoying her and our natural surroundings, I couldn’t stop thinking about how many miles I was missing out on by not having our walk “count”. Meanwhile, my Dad, who I made the mistake of telling that I was miles away from receiving my Monarch Migration badge, had put on my device and was driving my Mom to the point of contemplating a 61st year of marriage without him. She called to tell me that the poor dog was exhausted from being walked four times and that my dad was currently flailing his arms around the kitchen like a loon preparing for takeoff.
My friend and former US Marine, Mike, has taken Fitbit walking to a whole new level. Mike is the lead dog of our Fitbit “pack” with an average of 20K steps DAILY. The former Vietnam vet with FDI has also shown me the positives that come with tallying steps. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling having someone with military precision check in on you and urge you to get off the couch after seeing your pathetic step count. I know that he and our walking friends will go the distance with and for me.
As with everything in life, I strive for moderation, but it’s a struggle. At any given moment I can be a “normal” shopper and the next find myself awkwardly pushing a grocery cart with one arm to tally my mileage with the other. I remove my device occasionally, especially when I walk with my mom who strolls at the speed of a sloth. For I know, at any pace or distance, moving forward and connecting with caring people are what truly COUNTS.