Arm wrestling

Published August 26, 2013

Nike fuel bands

I remember when I first saw podcasting guru Leo Laporte talk about the Withings scale, that tracked your weight and tweeted about it every day. I thought he was completely mental, sharing such personal information, although the effect of peer pressure when it comes to healthy intentions has been proven. What I didn’t think was crazy was the concept of improved smarter gadgets tracking what you do.

The so-called “wearable tech” and “quantitive self” gadgets and apps are having a surge in popularity at the moment, and I am on board! I was always interested in being able to track what I do, not so much from a sharing with the world point of view, but mostly to help analyse trends and progress. I logged practically every run I did with RunKeeper, even the bad ones, and it was brilliant to be able to see what changed and how the workouts compared with each other.

I tried a sleep app on the iPhone, and although it was great to see the data, it wasn’t really practical. It involved leaving the iPhone charging under my pillow which is at least a fire hazard if not a health worry as well. I gave that up pretty quickly when I realised the heat gathering under my head must be shortening the life of my phone and probably me as well.

I’ve watched as gradually the Nike Fuel Bands, Fitbits and Jawbones have gained more popularity, and finally I got on board and dived into the world of wristband ownership. My particular band tracks sleep and movement, with an accompanying app to see the results. I don’t know how the step movement is measured, or how accurate it is, but the results look reasonable enough, even if I need to do plenty more steps to reach the target.

I’ve been very interested in my sleep patterns in particular, with the app collating information about when I’m in deep or light asleep, versus being awake.

I thought it would be uncomfortable wearing the band at night but it didn’t take long to get used to it. The first day and the first night were slightly odd, and I was a bit stilted moving about sometimes. I soon got used to it though, and now it’s like it was always a part of my arm. The battery life is impressive so it doesn’t have to be taken off too often.

So, I’ve been wearing mine for a couple of weeks and I’m still enjoying the information filtering out of it. I don’t know if I’d do it forever, I can see myself getting bored at some point, but not yet. The app tracks your food as well, if you input the data, but my dedication on that front only lasted a few days. If the food part was easier, that would be more interesting and more useful too. I’ve tried so many calorie-tracking apps and even with the barcode scanning, they are all just a bit too much of a chore to keep up longer than a week.

These kind of devices are ones where you get out what you put in. Use it devotedly and take an interest in your health and what you’re doing with your day and it will reward you in many ways. Just leave it on your arm and ignore it, and there’s little point to the exercise. There are definitely plenty of things that don’t need tracking, and you can overshare and overanalyse things too much – but a bit of a heads up about getting more sleep, or perhaps getting off the sofa, that can only be a good thing.

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