6 things I learned from self-tracking for a year

December 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

self tracking for 12 months

Jumping on the quantified self bandwagon, I committed to wearing a self-tracking device (Nike Fuelband) just under a year ago.

For a refresher on the self-tracking trend, here are some topline stats from the deck my colleagues and I pulled together earlier this year.

Here are some highlights:

  • In total, 7 in 10 U.S. adults track an indicator of health for themselves or a loved one, and report that the activity changes their overall approach to health
  • 60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine
  • 33% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns
  • 12% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms for a loved one
  • 21% of Americans are tracking themselves using technology — more than active Twitter users (Pew, Feb. 13)
  • Apple Stores sell more than 20 self-tracking products
  • There will be an estimated 485 million wearable computing devices shipped by 2018 (ABI Research, Feb. 2013). For reference, 700 million smartphones were shipped in 2012

Apart from a few days I forgot the thing in the charger and time in the pool, I collected a year’s worth of data related to my activity these past 12 months.

hourly breakdownMy stats from just under 12 months of tracking:

  • Average calories per day: 800
  • Average steps per day: 5,289
  • Activity breakdown
  • Late Night: 1%
  • Morning: 33%
  • Afternoon: 37%
  • Evening: 29%
  • Best Month: July
  • Lowest Month: December
  • Best Week: July 8-14 (our North Shore hiking adventure)

Here are some of the things I’ve learned by self-tracking for the last year:

  1. Sits and Spikes: On the days I’m in the office, I sit in a chair and do very little the majority of the day. Then at night I experience a huge spike when I get home and play/wrestle/race with my kids. A sedentary work style is a curse for many who sit in front of a computer for a living, so I’m glad I’m able to balance with at least some semblance of activity each evening.
  2. Data ownership and portability is extremely limiting: I’ve stored up all of this data, but I can’t export it into other formats or even get the raw data to do my own analysis. The limited analysis Nike allows is just that, limited. Same goes for the other brands. To truly make this data valuable, I need to be able to export it.
  3. Smart devices are smarter than dumb devices, but not much more: Sure, there are apps to run on our phones that track and report some of these same areas, but the best technology right now is external bands. And the best tech of today is pretty limited. But it will improve. Especially with the rise of smart watches. Don’t dismiss the value and impact of wearables due to the tech limitations of today.
  4. My primary doctor doesn’t care about all of this “health” data I’ve stored up: Part of the curse of these early platforms is that there isn’t a quantified self standard of measurement that equates to something my physician can use for diagnosis. Some say our health care providers or benefit-providing-employers may require self-tracking bands in the future. That may be inevitable, but the data today’s devices provide is pretty much junk to modern healthcare.
  5. Gamification inspires action: I’m no athlete, but I am competitive. Tracking my daily progress against my friends was enough to ensure I synced my data each night. And using MyFitnessPal to log consumed calories and those naughty late night snacks fostered an accountability that overshadowed my self-discipline.
  6. Warm months = more activity: When there is yard work to do and football to play with my kids after work and on the weekends, I’m significantly more active. In winter months, it’s much easier to stay inside and sit on my butt. Maybe I should do something about that.
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