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Walk This Way

With a PDA in hand, I made strides. But it needs to learn more about karate.

Day 1
Abby King's lab group has loaned me one of its PDAs and given me a goal: 90 minutes of walking a week, or about 13 minutes daily. The PDA will beep twice a day, asking me to answer dozens of questions about my activities, my whereabouts, my mood, and what has helped or hindered my exercise. At the end of the day, the PDA will graph my progress toward my daily and weekly goals. If I haven't met them, it will prompt me to schedule a walk for the next day. Only 90 minutes? Piece of cake, I think.

Day 2
I set off for my first walk. It's a beautiful day, and I can't believe it's taken having to report to a machine to get me outside to enjoy the neighborhood. I merrily trot by mothers chasing their toddlers, kids on scooters, the postman making his rounds. Confident that I've been gone three-quarters of an hour, I return home to log in. I've been gone 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! Sure, it beats 13, but I'm amazed by how dramatically I've overestimated my physical activity. And, man, could I go for a piece of cake.

Day 3
Walking is not my usual exercise—I practice karate, and tonight my instructor becomes completely unhinged and challenges us to an epic 2,700 punches in a row. He follows that up with a triple dose of push-ups. Afterward, as I wander spaghetti-armed toward the car, the PDA beeps. Surely, I think, there should be some way to count this kind of aerobic activity toward my overall goal. But it just doesn't fit into any of the study's pre-programmed categories. The PDA informs me that I have completed zero percent of today's exercise goals, and suggests I do better tomorrow. I decide to go lie down.

Day 5
Except for the karate classes, I am more sedentary than I thought. Most of the time when the PDA beeps, I respond that I am doing desk work, and that it's pretty much all I've done that day. No matter where I am, I got there by car, rather than walking or biking. I resolve to do better.

Day 6
I walk for 45 minutes, which pushes me well over the 90-minute mark. I celebrate by eating a super burrito.

Day 7
I have the flu. The PDA beeps at me as I lie blearily beneath the covers; it beeps at me as I down some cough syrup; it beeps at me as I blow my nose for the 4 millionth time. I shove it deep inside my bag of karate gear. It is a low point for our relationship.

Day 8
I feel a little better. I walk for 20 minutes. Then I spend two hours playing solitaire on the PDA. Our relationship is on the mend.

Day 10
I'm back on track with my weekly walking goal. I have developed a new circuit around my neighborhood that I'm pretty sure I can continue once I return the PDA.

I am a little sad to see it go.

Day 31
It has been three weeks since I turned in the PDA. Although I'm still a regular at my karate workouts, without the PDA's twice-daily queries about my activity level, I have not taken a single walk. I am once again a creature of bad habits.

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