Human Writes: The little band that keeps you moving

  • Living
  • Sunday, 08 Oct 2017

Lately, my husband has taken to pacing up and down around the house. He also suddenly shoots out of home in the evenings “for a walk”. None of this fazes me. Even when it’s almost dusk, and he’s hurriedly putting on running shoes, insisting on a “quick walk”, I barely raise an eyebrow.

I know what’s driving him, and actually, it’s driving me too. We are both rather obsessed about our fitness trackers. Mine was gifted to me by him for my birthday in August.

For those who don’t know, fitness trackers are electronic devices that look like a watch, but do much more than tell the time. They monitor how many steps you walk, your heart rate, sleep patterns and other physical activities such as cycling. Through an app, all this information is downloaded onto your phone. I find they’re a fantastic boost to staying fit.

I’ve now got back into walking. To my surprise, my heart rate goes up to a fairly high level (although not my maximum level) when I’m walking at a brisk pace. I had always assumed that level was only possible with vigorous exercise, like jogging. In fact, in recent years, I was so focused on high intensity exercise, mostly done at a gym. I had almost abandoned plain old walking.

Now, with my tracker on, I look for every opportunity to walk. I don’t mind parking at a distance to my destination, because that means more steps. I welcome stairs.


My husband walks around his office during lunchtime and at coffee breaks. He usually meets his daily target number of steps. In fact, he often does twice as many as what the tracker recommends – 8,000 steps daily.

I thought it would be easy for me to reach that target level, because I consider myself pretty active, but in fact, the stats showing on my device reveal how sedentary I am sometimes. Frankly, on some days I don’t meet my target. On days that I’m busy, I simply cut down or even write off exercise. “I have this deadline to meet – I can’t go for a walk now!” So I tell myself.

Then we started monitoring “resting heart rates”, which is your heart rate at rest, say, sitting. According to the Harvard Health Blog, this is one of the easiest and possibly most effective ways to gauge your health. You can measure this at home by placing two fingers on your inner wrist and counting the number of heart beats per minute.

Anything between 60 and 100 is considered normal, but ideally you want it to be low, as that implies good physical fitness and better heart health. (Note, this is one end of the zone for heart rate; at the other end, during exercise, the rate should be high, depending on age and fitness – up to 150 for a 30-year-old).

Well-trained athletes sometimes have resting heart rates as low as 40, but for most adults, a rate in the 60s is excellent.

Conversely, a high resting heart rate might mean a higher risk of a heart attack. It is also linked with higher blood pressure, body weight and circulating blood fats, a 2013 study in the journal Heart showed. The study found that a resting heart rate of between 81 and 90 doubled the chance of death, while a rate higher than 90 tripled it.

I expected my resting heart rate to be lower than my husband’s since in recent years, I’ve generally exercised more than him. Our rates are both at healthy levels, but to my surprise, his was often a tad lower.

And then it hit me. In the last three months, I haven’t been taking good care of my health. I stopped the exercise classes, and then for various reasons – travelling, deadlines and studying for an exam – I was hardly doing any exercise. The tracker didn’t care about my past, it was measuring my current fitness level. Plus, I’ve been pretty stressed lately (my husband, on the other hand, is generally pretty relaxed).

Not only that. The tracker was also measuring my sleep, including deep sleep. It was advising me to sleep more (yawn) and suggesting an earlier bedtime (what, so early!?) It also showed me how my sleep patterns compared with other users (not good). Lack of sleep is a constant problem of mine. This threw a spotlight on how much I push my body.

So for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m trying to improve my sleep habits. That, for me, is huge. I never imagined that a little band around my wrist could create such a revolution in my health.

Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.

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