The iPad and Physical Fitness

Any time a new communication technology is introduced, people rapidly discover new uses for it that may go far beyond the inventor’s intentions. I’m reading a Bill Bryson book called At Home. It contains an anecdote about the early days of the telephone. The telephone, according to Bryson, was originally intended to be a means of rapidly distributing weather, emergency and other time-sensitive information. The thought that people would use it to converse with family and friends seemed wild and implausible since you could talk to them in person.

Likewise, I remember back in the early days of personal computing in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, clients having heated debates about why someone would want a personal computer. Some people actually thought housewives would want them to store and organize recipes. Other people thought kids might find them useful for playing educational games. Their potential as a serious business tool was seriously underestimated.

Thirty years later, along comes this thing called the Apple iPad. It’s diminutive form factor made it look like a more portable laptop or an smartphone on steroids. I bought one and quickly became addicted to reading e-books. At first, I rationalized it based saving trees.

Three years after purchasing my first iPad, I now look at it in an entirely new way – as a physical fitness tool.  Last year, I had bypass surgery. If you’ve never had your chest cracked, all I can say is, “Avoid it at all costs.” But I digress. During my recuperation from the surgery, I bought an exercise bike because I had too many accidents on street and mountain bikes. I also reasoned that an exercise bike would remove weather as an excuse to avoid a workout. (Houston has two seasons: summer and August. The heat and humidity here can be daunting at times.)

I quickly found that boredom was my biggest exercise challenge. Riding for an hour a day gets old quickly, but that’s what it takes to get in shape and stay in shape.

iPad to the rescue. Now, when I get on the bike, I flip my iPad case over the console. During my hour-long ride, I can answer emails, catch up with friends on Linked-in, read e-books, or watch a video on Amazon Prime or Netflix. For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching a series of fascinating TED Talks on Netflix.

At the end of an hour, I’ve pedaled between 20 and 25 miles. Dull, repetitive drudgery has turned into fascinating intellectual exploration with some of the brightest minds in the world.

Some people may say, “You could always watch TV on your exercise bike.” That’s true, but it’s not quite the same thing. With the iPad, I can start the video at the start of the ride. I also get a lot more variety. If I don’t feel like TED, I watch a documentary, or catch up on my reading.

Now here’s the best part. I’ve had the bike almost exactly a year. During that time, I’ve pedaled almost 6000 miles! That’s across the country and back again! And I, Robert Rehak, have lost 80 pounds and eight inches from my waistline! I now weigh what I did when I graduated from college and was playing competitive sports. I tell people that I feel forty again. I met a college classmate not long ago and he told me I looked exactly the same as when we went to Northwestern together (except for the gray hair).

The transformation has been remarkable. I didn’t lose the 80 pounds because of exercise or nutrition apps on the iPad. I lost them because the iPad kept me interested in working out.

Curiously, I find another factor at work, too. I find that when I get lost in a good book or video while riding that it diverts my attention. I forget how tired I am and start pedaling faster. Yesterday, I averaged almost 25 MPH while watching a series of TED Talks on the application of mathematics to everyday life.

Hey, 80 pounds is all the math I need. Thank you, Steve Jobs, wherever you are. I doubt this is what he had in mind when he and the good people at Apple conceived the iPad. It’s simply a side effect. An unintended consequence. And I love it.