• Julie Nicholls

Can augmented reality get me fit?


Of course not. The only thing that will help me improve my fitness is me. That and a healthy dose of motivation, a balanced diet and moving around more. But this isn’t a blog about that, because that would be very dull!


A couple of weeks ago I read a post by a friend of mine who has taken on the Diabetes UK’s Million Step Challenge. The idea is to average 10,000 steps a day for the whole summer. The charity’s aim: ‘take a giant step for people with diabetes and a million little ones for yourself'. This got me thinking about how far 10,000 steps actually is. I’m a freelancer that spends most of my time sat in front of a computer with only brief breaks to make more tea. How many steps do I do in a day? The answer, of course, is not nearly enough. So in the interests of research, I went on the App Store downloaded a step counting app and left the house. It took me three walks yesterday (hey I do have a day job to fit in) but I got to 10,533 steps. That’s 5.3 miles and 360 calories. 360 calories? Jeez, this research is proving to be an eye-opener! It took me about an hour and 45 minutes in total. Trying to fit that in every day would be a challenge in itself aside from the exercise bit.


Now it may well be a five-minute wonder, but the app did motivate me. It’s not a fancy app. It’s intentionally the most basic one I could find. I don’t want someone cheerleading in my ear. You walk, it tells you how far and how many steps you have done. I wanted to reach the 10,000 target to have a better appreciation of what my friend has taken on so I walked further. And today, so far I am up to 7700 so will have to force myself to go for another walk after work even though I don’t want to. Without the app, I would have no idea how far I had walked. And no interest in hitting a target.


So a simple piece of technology has had a part to play in my fitness this week. But back to the augmented reality. Whilst I was on the App Store I disappeared down a wormhole and ended up reading about another app to get people off their sofas - Wizards Unite. I’m not a gamer, did't dabble with Pokemon Go, and am not a Harry Potter fan, so I'm not the target audience. But after reading about it I was intrigued enough to see what all the hype was about. It’s made by the same people who created Pokemon Go and follows a similar principle. You go out into the real world to find stuff using your phone screen.


Would a game motivate me more than a simple step counting app? Time to find out. First off, the graphics are great. You hold the phone up and some weird mystical creature appears at the end of your road that you have to go cast a spell on. You turn the corner and there’s Hagrid. The way the real world is mapped into a Harry Potter style one is very clever if a little unsettling. It certainly gave my neighbourhood a different feel. I can see how this game could appeal to a lot of people. Me, I don't have the patience to immerse myself in the storytelling gameplay and countless spells you need to master. Plus I couldn’t read all the tiny instruction on my screen in bright sunlight, it ran my battery down and I was in danger of walking into real world things whilst searching for potions.


On the upside, I did a half hour walk and it felt like I had only been out 5 minutes. I could have walked further. It was kinda fun but I can’t say that I noticed one thing about my surroundings. Lovely sunny day, nice park. Nope didn’t see any of that. And I didn’t spend that half hour thinking about my next creative project which is where my mind usually wanders to on my morning walk. Many a design challenge has been solved treading my local pavements. I’ll probably try and catch a few more creatures on my travels but I’m not sure it’s really for me.


However, it could be the thing that prises my niece from the sofa. She’s 10 and is completely averse to walking. If she’s not at school she’s on her tablet or phone playing Roblox or watching YouTube videos. Last Summer we took her on a short walk around a local reservoir. She fed the ducks, had ice cream and followed the nature trail to find all the wooden Wind in the Willows creatures. When I asked her if she had a good time, she said ‘it would have been better if it had WiFi’. She prefers the virtual world to the inconvenience of the real one. Low battery and no wifi are her kryptonite. Rather than get disheartened by that, perhaps her addiction could be channelled through an app. She could end up getting some exercise without realising it. A bit like when your mum hid the extra vegetables in your dinner.


And that is the very nature of apps I guess. They are there to inform, entertain, help, motivate, distract, or just plain baffle us. It’s just a matter of finding the ones that fit with your lifestyle. So this week I learned that augmented reality games look awesome but make me feel slightly disoriented. 10,000 steps is a long way. Oh, and I’m in absolute awe of anyone who has taken on the million step challenge. Every day is a school day.

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