Posted in 21st Century life, data collecting, digital life, gadgets and sleep, parents and technology

My Personal Fitness Device: Generating Data to Improve My Health

My Jawbone bracelet — simple and basic black. I can wear it anywhere and any time.

If you wear a personal fitness device, or if you are considering one, check out Robin Raskin’s short Huffington Post article, What Happens to All Your Data When You Monitor Your Fitness. The author has also posted the piece on Linked In.

While we have many good reasons for wearing fitness trackers, Raskin’s piece explains how the device companies accumulate, post, and use our data. More importantly, she describes how the fitness data has inspired public health initiatives — just one more reason to wear a tracker. With all the concern about personal data in our 21st Century lives, it’s nice to know that sometimes the information can be put to good use.

Exactly one year ago, I began wearing my Jawbone UP 24 personal fitness bracelet. The first day I put it on, expecting to record 10,000 steps without thinking much about it. Boy, was I wrong. Despite the fact that I exercised four to five times a week, it turned out that many days I was barely getting over 5,000. For weeks I had to focus on accumulating the other 5,000. Over the first month, however, I discovered that I liked keeping track of my steps, and by the day things got easier and easier.

I learned that I can monitor how long I am sitting down by setting the idle alert. Initially I set it for 30 minutes, then for 20, and later on at 15 minutes where it remains today. If I am sitting too long, my Jawbone bracelet vibrates, and unless I’m in a meeting or in church, I get up and take a short walk. The Jawbone’s sleep monitoring helped me discover that while I was in bed for more than seven hours, I was not sleeping anywhere near that amount of time. The more I watched and observed my sleep data, the more I slept, and that less tired I became. My Jawbone communicates flawlessly with my iPhone. And I like that I only need to charge my device every 12-14 days.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 8.31.40 AM
Purchased at the Container Store. Click to visit the catalog.

I’ve grown healthier over the one-year that I’ve been wearing my Jawbone.  My blood pressure is way down, my weight is lower, my endurance is up, and I’ve added more aerobic exercise to my weekly exercise activities. I am not nearly as tired as I used to be and getting up in the morning is easier

Things the Jawbone has inspired me to do differently include parking as far away as possible from destinations and taking the stairs at every opportunity. I know how many steps it takes to walk from my office to various locations at work, and I walk to the supermarket regularly with my new Container Store rolling cart. My husband and I have even started taking walks after dinner.

I haven’t mentioned the amazing Jawbone customer service. The manual and online instructions are easy to read and understand, but twice this past year I’ve needed to call customer service. In both instances the people who assisted me were amazing. I do not remember the name of the first man who helped, but Patty, who assisted me with a later problem, diagnosed and solved the problem in less than five minutes.

If I hope for lots of weight loss, noting that the calorie-burning estimates for recorded exercise are too high is important — but calorie monitoring is not great on any fitness device — we each consume varying amounts of calories as we go about our daily lives. Many people tend to take the calorie numbers seriously and eat more. Sadly, all this attention to my fitness won’t help me — or anyone — lose weight unless we monitor and control what we eat.

One not-so-wonderful thing happened with my fitness device. At a rest stop on Interstate 95, I put my bracelet down on the side of the sink so I could give my hands and wrists a good washing, and when I looked down to put on my Jawbone it was gone. After an hour of looking, I accepted the fact that the person in the sink next to me just took it. Then I ordered a new Jawbone bracelet that was delivered the next day. It was a tough 24 hours, and now I never, ever remove it in crowded public places.

Fitness tracking technology gives us the tools to make our lives better. Adults of any age can figure out, track personal data, and then expertly use the information to improve health. Now, with Robin Raskin’s essay, we know a lot more about how our data can also be used for the common good.

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