Exercising for Data with Fitbit

My best day, so far, from the Fitbit dashboard.

My best day, so far, from the Fitbit dashboard.

Smartphones and health-related apps have been around for several years now.  There are apps to track your exercise, track your food and diet, find healthy recipes, and share all of this with others who are trying to improve their health.  Most of these apps either require you to manually log your data, or require using your phone’s GPS to track your activity (something which drains your phone’s battery pretty quickly).  The next evolution in smartphone health is integrating low-power sensors with bluetooth, to create a system that automatically generates and logs your health data in real-time.

I recently purchased a Fitbit after reading about all of this, and was interested in having my smartphone help me to improve my health.  There are now lots of of health-related products out there for your smartphone.  Wireless heart-rate monitors, such as the Zephyr Monitor, can be used during exercise to chart your heart rate and help you keep it within your target range.  Activity monitors, such as Fitbit and Nike+, track all of your basic movements, even walking around inside your office or taking the stairs.  This data can be used to calculate the amount of calories above your Basal Metabolic Calorie Rate (The BMCR is the number of calories you would burn if you basically just laid in bed all day).  This helps you determine your total calorie burn for the day, and help you to figure out exactly how many calories to consume and still maintain/lose weight.  Sleep monitors, such as the WakeMate, help monitor your sleep patterns, and try to wake you up in-between your REM sleep cycles.

Fitbit Sleep Tracking

Learning about my sleeping habits has been very interesting.

I went with Fitbit because I wanted a device that did both sleep-tracking and activity-tracking.  I wear it everyday so that I have a precise calorie count based on my activity.  I have recently started to improve my diet and exercise, and wanted to find a way to figure out in a more accurate way how my exercise affects my calorie intake.  For my diet, I want to have a calorie deficit of 750 every day.  When I have a lot of activity, this means that I should eat more, but it’s hard to figure out exactly how much more to eat without something like the Fitbit.

Fitbit has been great so far.  But I have started to notice an interesting side effect.  Being a geek, I have always liked statistics and data.  Once I found myself tracking my activity, I immediately wanted to start improving the numbers, almost at a sub-conscience level.  I have been in my office building for over a year now, and never took the stairs to my office until I started using my Fitbit.  I enjoy seeing the numbers increasing and reaching the goals I have set.  I also started parking further away from my building, and taking more frequent breaks to walk around, so that I can increase my step count.

I was chatting with my friend Jay a few days ago about this, and he said a friend of his now says that he “Exercises for data”.  While I’m exercising for my health, I realized that I’m also doing that.  It’s also a lot of fun to see the data generated by my activity/sleep.  It’s very motivating to see real data (as opposed to manually entered data which may or may not be right), and it almost compels me to try and improve the stats.  While exercising with friends/family has proven to help people stick with a program, I think that exercising for data will also have the same effect.

Are you using a Fitbit or one of these other devices?  Are you “Exercising for Data” now?


Also published on Medium.

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