Personal Meta Data

Something a little different but I fancied writing about how I’ve been keeping track of personal data over the past few years.

I’ve owned my fitbit ultra for about 3 years now and it’s lived by my side for 95% of that time (I did lose it for a few weeks). It’s always in my pocket wherever I go. It’s almost as important as my keys, phone and wallet!

It’s also tired and worn, it’s damaged, the casing has cracked and it’s held together by an elastic band. I’m pretty sure it’ll fall into many peices if I remove that elastic band, but it still silenty rests in my pocket as I go about my business, quietly incrementing the step count and keeping track of my every movement.

I didn’t initially see the value in using a fitbit, an £80 pedometer sounds a bit extreme when you can buy basic items for £5, but it’s a tech thing and I was intrigued. I may not see the value straight off, but it must be there right? I also wanted to improve my fitness and with guidelines suggesting we walk 10,000 steps a day, I needed to know what my average day consisted of.

As it turned out, less than 2,000 steps a day. ooops.

The data it collects has always interested me which is where I find the value. Not only does it count steps, it also calculates the floors I climb, the miles I cover, the calories I burn and the amount of useful sleep I get. I think the data it collects is optimistic but it gives a good indication of my fitness levels.

Recently though, @lletnek put me onto MyFitnessPal, a tool to track the food you eat. More personal meta data! Nice :)

This is ideal as I’ve got a bit of weight to lose. I always thought I ate ok with the odd naughty treat but again, I knew the guidelines figures but no idea what I was actually eating. Turns out several hundred calories more than I should be. I always thought my running helped to balance out the biscuits and chocolate bars but alas, not.

Speaking of running, my Garmin watch tracks my runs, distance, speed, calories burnt etc. Log all this on RunKeeper & Strava and I’ve got a permanent record of my running.

The beauty here though is the APIs that these services offer. Fitbits API shares my steps. The MyFitnessPal API shares my nutrition, RunKeeper shares my runs.

It all comes together beautifully in MyFitnessPal.

Steps taking during my normal working day get logged to fitbit which syncs with MFP, which adjusts my suggested calorie intake. Likewise with Runkeeper, constantly adjusting when I go for a run.

I love collecting this sort of data. Seems mundane at first but it gives a great overview when you’re looking at larger expanses of time… say daily step count over a year, and compare that to weight readings over a year. See how the two interact. You can also see how your regular chinese take-away links with those many bad nights of sleep!

It goes further than that though, keeping data on what our bodies are doing will enable us to lead happier & healthier lives. I can guarantee (I’ve lived it!) that doing less than 1000 steps a day and eating 1500 calories over your guided allowance makes you feel horrible sluggish, achey and tired. Doing the opposite (10k+ steps a day, running 3 times a week, eating a clean healthy diet) gives you so much more energy, boosts your mood (and creativity!) and fills you with the proper nutrients you need!

Like I said, something a bit different from what I normally write but it’s kept me interested in the last few years, and with the current iPhone 5S coming complete with a built in activity tracker and the rumoured healthbook for iOS8 due this year (not to mention the also rumoured Apple Watch), this space is certainly going to get more & more interesting.

Obviously there’s concerns about keeping your data private… but that’s for another post I think.


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