We have written a lot in this column about practical ways to use technology to measure your achievement of personal goals, and track what you are actually doing. The principle of ‘what gets measured gets managed’ holds true across so many different disciplines, and the smart gadgets we all carry around make it much easier to track these metrics if we want to.
Years ago in the UK when I started training for a charity distance walk, I had a little belt-clip pedometer that racked up my step count each day. It worked mechanically, you could hear a little clunk inside if you happened to cheat and just shake it by hand (for research reasons).
Now my latest shiny toy that’s supposed to be helping me get in shape is a little slender stick called a Fitbit, that comes in a rubber clip to attach to your clothes. It synchs via Bluetooth to a mobile or desktop app, and they make a range of different models at different price points, the latest being wristband that looks a lot like the Jawbone UP.
As well as tracking steps taken, Fitbit monitors the amount of floors you climb daily – we all know going up and down is a lot more taxing on your energies than walking on the flat, and it sets you targets for that too, so your daily target might be 10,000 steps and 10 flights of stairs. It sends you emails, and push messages on your smartphone, to let you know how you’re doing – way to go Maya, just 1794 steps away from your daily target! Yay you nailed it, well done! Etc.
You get badges too, your first 100 stairs day, and so on -you can easily tweet these badges or share them to Facebook if you fancy a brag.
Fitbit actually does far more than this however and if you use the app consistently you can track your total diet, and use it as a very detailed tool for weight loss. This doesn’t work for me personally as it requires a degree of weighing and measuring I do not enjoy, but if you want to track it you can. Fitbit also tracks your sleep – the new Flex model is intended to be worn through the night as well as the day, my Fitbit One comes with a wrist strap you can insert it in, and programme a silent alarm to wake you by vibrating, I don’t really use this as I find the wristband uncomfortable.
The apps are free on a wide range of mobile platforms, but the actual devices are not – even the entry point Fitbit Zip costs €59.95. You could get a good digital pedometer for a quarter of that, without all the supporting apps and analysis! Fitbit is hardcore if you want to quantify every aspect of your life, they even make a personal weighing scale that is Bluetooth linked to your account so you can track and graph your weight without ever entering a single piece of data.
But if you are more interested in losing pounds than Euros there is a new free app for iOS called Moves – this turns your iPhone into a pedometer, using sensor and location info from your phone to recognise movement and activity. It does it by geolocation, and the report tells you where you were exercising as well as how long and how many steps. You will want to read the privacy agreements quite carefully, as basically it is tracking you wherever you go, whilst the app is running, and you need to be OK with that if you are going to use it.
I have been using it alongside the Fitbit app, and it seems to me that one of them isn’t quite accurate. Moves reads lower, for any given day or activity. And it’s not always right about the kind of activity either, for example driving on a windy slow road in the Jalon Valley the other week Moves logged me as having done 40 minutes cycling! Would have been much healthier if it were correct, but no I was behind the wheel just going at a pace it judged must be on a bike, and wound up with lots of glowing notifications about my most active day ever – oops! It does seem quite good at distinguishing between running and walking however.
Another issue with the Moves app, as with any app using geolocation, is the strain on your phone battery. If you are running the Fitbit app too and synching via Bluetooth, and perhaps you also want to listen to a podcast or some music whilst you have your walk – well, better be prepared for your phone to run out of energy even before you do! When the battery dies the app goes off and stops tracking, naturally. But it saves all the data it has, and presents it in a nice colourful infographic you can save or share if you wish, as illustrated.
So whilst Moves isn’t perfect, and for now it’s only for iPhone, but for a free app it’s a great alternative to investing in a Fitbit or anything similar like the Nike Fuelband. Get measuring, get moving, and enjoy the outdoor life as Spring makes a welcome return to the costas!