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Getting Back to Nature With My Fitbit

The gadget helps this author rediscover her love of walking outside

The little black fitness tracker on my wrist monitors my every move. It counts my steps and measures the intensity of my workout. It even tells me if I did a good job sleeping.

But that’s not why I wear my Fitbit. To borrow from Texas’ unofficial poet laureate Butch Hancock, it’s just a wave, it’s not the water.

Turns out addiction to this little gadget is a thing. Behavioral scientists at Endeavor Partners, a Cambridge, Mass. consulting firm, say folks like me (age 55 to 65) have taken to fitness trackers to live longer and be healthier. Our trackers help us monitor three of the four major drivers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list for healthy aging: regular exercise, weight control and sleep. The only thing they don’t do is tell us to put down that smelly cigarette.

I have a different theory about why we use our fitness trackers.

The ‘Joy of Movement’

While it is true I first strapped on mine because I’m staring down the cold dark barrel of old age and am not ready for my body to go, that’s not why I walk. Turns out, outside is a good place for me. With my new “bracelet,” I am rekindling a fire I thought had long ago gone cold.

With my new 'bracelet,' I am rekindling a fire I thought had long ago gone cold.

At first, I started walking just to get in the recommended 10,000 steps. Then, as I walked, something unexpected happened: I remembered that I used to love walking.

There was a time when I walked everywhere. I loved my body back then. It was my pal, my operating system. Then a career and a gym membership got in the way and I lost track of the joy of movement. Using my body became exercise and just one more thing I had to do, another chore. I quit walking or riding a bike for fun and started spinning. In the same place. Inside.

Now I’m walking again, and a healthy body is just one aspect of healthy living.

There’s another aspect that I had completely forgotten. In addition to a couple of miles early in the morning to start the day and a couple more in the evening with my husband, I’ve started squeezing in a walk at noon because I kind of crave being outside.

Grass, Trees, Quiet

Even in the Texas summer, when everything is burnt brown by the drought, I hear myself thinking, “Gosh, it’s so beautiful here.” The sunbaked wild grass, the dry creek-bed full of stones. It’s still and quiet. Maybe I’ll just do one more loop before I go back inside. Before I know it, I’m at 13,000 steps.

This morning I noticed how many beautiful trees there are in my community of mid-century sprawler homes. I noticed my neighbor’s new red door. I noticed that I have actual neighbors. They have shady porches and in the morning, their pop-up sprinklers remind me of old songs about hissing lawns. My mind wanders in the dappled light of centenarian live oaks.

Somewhere along the way, I rediscovered delight.

Science appears to have made the connection between the health benefits and the simple joy of walking in nature. According to a study conducted by Gregory Bratman, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental science at Stanford University, 90 minutes spent walking in a natural environment can engender measurable brain changes, including reduction in depression-inducing mental activities.

A Healthy Addiction

When I am out walking, I move in unison with this planet and its inhabitants. That little guy on my arm lets me pretend I’m meeting some kind of goal, but I know better. I’m walking because I finally remembered I love being outside.

I’m rekindling the joy of movement and yes, I am addicted, but not to Fitbit.

I’m addicted to this crazy beautiful world and to how my feet feel when they step lightly on it. I crave sunlight and neighbors and all the things our hearts long for as we leave our air-conditioned homes to drive in our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices.

Sure, some of us needed a gadget to make us go outside and feel our bodies moving. But the gadget was simply the raft that returned us to an ocean of being. It was right where we left it all those years ago.

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