Having evaluated the data from over 23.2 million Fitbit wearers around the world last year, Fitbit has ranked Ireland at the top of their 2017 Fitbit Fittest Countries list. So Fitbit says Ireland is the fittest nation in the world……..but we are in our fat arses! Because technology is now wearable it allows sleep quality, the number steps taken and calories burned to be measured. It is capable of tracking heart rate, daily activity levels and exercise; it can even be used as a GPS running watch. It makes these measurements available at a glance and some brands claim that wearing one means “it’s easier to live healthier lives and achieve more” (Dontje et al., 2015; Ferguson et al., 2015). The fitbit bands are by no means the only option. Bands produced by Jawbone, Microsoft and Nike, to name only a sample, accurately collect and sync data to computers or phones.
As the economies of countries grow so do the residents’ waistlines, countries with higher per capita income have lower rates of physical activity. Indeed, countries with low income per capita that has more active lifestyles due to the physical nature of their everyday work which is prevalent in their economies (Sallis et al., 2016). So the reality is we may the fittest of the developed fat nations whose residents can afford and are wealthy enough to buy fitbits.
One of the measures used by fitbit to rate the fitness of countries was the number of steps completed in a day. Walking is a rhythmic, dynamic, aerobic activity which uses the large skeletal muscles resulting in huge benefits with minimal adverse effects. Walking at a brisk pace (3-4mph) regularly in sufficient quantity into the ‘training zone’ of 70% of maximal heart rate develops and sustains physical fitness. The muscles of the legs and lower trunk are strengthened, the flexibility of joints preserved and posture and carriage may even improve. Walking is also the most common weight-bearing activity, and therefore contributes at all ages to an increase in related bone strength at all ages (Morris & Hardman, 1997; Murtagh et al., 2002). The growing popularity of – step linked health promotion messages are not new , they are believed to be of Japanese origin and dating as far back as the 1960’s. Most nations own national health organisations recommend 10,000 steps per day (steps/day) as a minimum target for health benefits of their adult populations ……. Ireland’s fitbit wearers have an average of only 8517 steps …… so unfortunately despite fitbits claims this does not make Ireland the fittest country in the world.
The contribution of increased levels of activity to health have been studied as far back as the 1950s, at which time bus conductors and postmen were identified as having lower death rates from cardiovascular disease than less active workers – drivers and switchboard operators (Morris et al., 1953). Sedentary behaviours include sitting, driving (commuting), lying down (not sleeping) and television viewing (Chu & Moy, 2013). Industrial, technological and social progress have considerably reduced our physical activity levels and greatly increased the participation in sedentary behaviours (Matthews et al., 2012). FitBit found that Irish fitbit wearers are physically active for an average of only 24 minutes; again well below the international recommendations of at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
But modern living in Ireland doesn’t tolerate physical activity. Vehicles, machines and technology now do our moving for us. Our leisure time activities don’t come close to making up for what we’ve lost. Exercise and more importantly movement has now become optional. But in the real “fittest” nations on earth physical activity is neither optional nor part of leisure; it is entwined in their daily lives. In Mozambique, agriculture provides livelihoods for the vast majority of over 23 million inhabitants. Mozambicans are at an optimum peak of physical activity through their daily activities of fishing, producing timber and cultivating cashew nuts, tobacco, tea, cotton, coconuts and citrus fruit. The landlocked African country of Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries. But it is one of the most physically active countries in the world. Because 90% of Malawians live in rural areas, and most work in agriculture and are forced carry out strenuous physical activity daily. But not all of the real “fittest” countries in the world are poor with economies that are primarily dependent on agriculture. Oil shortages in 1973-1974 were the catalyst to a cycling craze in the Netherlands that has only grown ever since. Scarcities forced the Dutch government to restrict motor vehicles in its towns and cities and to focus on alternate forms of transport – the bicycle. Today in the Netherlands, cycling accounts for 27% of all trips nationwide, and for 59% of trips within cities. Almost 40% of the population either walks or cycles to work daily – making them one of the fittest nations on earth. Exercise in these countries is not a choice or a leisure activity, it’s a means of transport or even a way of survive. But wearing a fitbit is like wearing your conscience on your wrist. It brings the guilt of “not being active” into the now rather than postponing it, and turning it into a promise. Reaching for the remote, the band sneaks out from under the sleeve and asks – could you do more? Have you hit your recommended step count for today? Have you earned the calories to eat the fruit and nut? These bands really do change behaviour, they increase activity levels and reduce the risk of health problems (Lyons et al., 2014). But we Irish are far from being the fittest in the world, unfortunately we are on course to be one of the fattest – if current trends continue Ireland will be the fattest country in Europe by 2025 – because physical activity isn’t a case of life and death for us ….. or is it?
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