It was time for me to make a change, I have been on and off with my fitness goals for a while. I would run and get ready for a 10K or a half marathon and then once I was done I would undoubtedly take an undetermined amount of time off from exercise, always telling myself, next week I would start back up. But, as always happened I would get busy with something else going on in my life and keep pushing it off. I might get a quick (or not so quick) 5k jog in once in two weeks, if I were lucky, but it was not enough to keep me where I wanted to be.
I finally sat back and took a look at where my fitness and health levels were at, and being honest with myself it was not good. My weight was constantly in a state of flux; up and down in about a 20kg range and my levels of activity were inconstant at best. Though I was keeping my weight significantly lower than it has been in the past, I was still very unhappy with this instability. Since living a long and healthy life was a clear goal of mine I needed to find a way to address this situation that I could make stick, I needed to make serious lifestyle changes that I could implement over time and stick to long term.
Through my reflection I realized I needed to stop approaching my health and fitness as a consumer and begin to approach it like an engineer. I need to source some data, talk to experts and design a system I thought would give me the desired result.
I found the WHO global recommendations for physical activity for adults as well as the American Heart Associations recommendations, which fell along the 10,000 step goal you see in so many pedometers, they even have a campaign built around the target called startwalkingnow.org. It seemed that if I were going to live a healthy lifestyle and make changes that I could stick to this was a good place to start.
But I am already behind the curve, so if I were going to achieve my goal the minimum wasn’t going to be enough. I would need to exceed those numbers in order to reach my goal. So I reached out to my friend Mark Abbott, the founder of Thai Top Fitness for his advice, he basically told me I was wrong. Mark told me to take it easy and judge where my fitness level was at:
“You’ll need to decide what’s too much. Remember, if you’re not sure, then dial it down. A small step forward is better than an injury which is a huge step back.”
Given these insights from Mark I knew I had to start slow, find out what my body could handle and go from there. Still 10,000 steps sounded like a good goal and I wanted to work towards it, but given the very wise warnings I knew I had to ease my way into it.
I wanted to be able to use technology to track my progress and to let me know if I was keeping to my goals, but which tech to use was the question. I have used some wearables in the past, like my experience with the Jawbone UP, which left me unimpressed, and with a friction burn on my wrist. After doing a bit of looking I decided that my smartphone would be the perfect connected device for the job, I have talked at great length how smartphones are an ideal augmentation to the Internet of Things given that they are packed with sensors and have multiple forms of connectivity.
I did some digging around, looking at various apps, many of which were more specific to fitness related goals. I came across the Pacer app. Pacer turns my smartphone into a pedometer, tracking my activity levels each day and then allowing me to see how they trend. It has goals that are based off of the same WHO and American Heart Association health and activity recommendations and allowed me to set daily goals for activity and see how I do against those numbers. Pacer also allows me to track my weight, blood pressure and pulse rate if I choose to.
I wanted to find out more about the app that I will be using so I reached out to Pacer and was put in contact with their co-founder Michael Caldwell. After having experienced how simple Pacer was to use but how much power it actually packed into the app I was not to surprised when Michael made a point to mention that is really by design, and that one of their goals was to ensure it would work across as many devices as possible.
“The biggest technical challenge for our kind of app is really in the core activity tracking technology. Developing step counting algorithms that work with any kind of device without consuming too much battery, having an app that can be stable even in low memory environments, and building out our data architecture to integrate with 3rd parties like Apple Health, Google Fit, MyFitnessPal and others (this 3rd party integration is still not done). So while it’s trivial these days for other app developers to make a step counter that works on just newer iPhones, or just the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6, it’s actually quite hard to make a single app that can work on any iPhone and (almost) any Android phone.”
I was also not surprised to find out that they had 15 million users worldwide. What was really shocking was how Michael descried how fast the app had grown:
“In our first year (2012) we had about 100k downloads. In 2013 we had about 1 million. In 2014 and the first few months of 2015 we’ve added another 14 million, and we don’t see any slowing down.”
When I asked Michael about any planned new features for Pacer he tapped into the very reason I started using the app:
“We’re very much interested in how Pacer can be a tool to help people change their behavior for better health outcomes, and a lot of our planned new features will focus on ways we can help that.”
Michael and I had a considerable back and forth via email, I won’t put everything here in this first blog, but I will share most of it along the way as I continue to post about my experience trying to use technology to help me live a healthier life.
On to my experiment; I will use the Pacer app to monitor my daily activity levels, as well as my weight, blood pressure and hart rate rate so I can track those numbers over time in a single place I can input the other metrics through Pacer) for one year. I also decided that I would take periodic pictures of myself, like a before and after type pictures as well as measure the diameter of my abdomen across my navel to help judge any physical changes that might take place in my body over this experiment.
Well, to get things started, here are my baseline measurements before I make any changes to my daily life to try and hit my activity level goals.
Pulse: 89 BPM
Abdomen: 121.5 cm
My before picture is below, as you can see it’s not a pretty sight; but all in due time. Lets see if I can use the Pacer app and feedback from experts and professionals to make changes that will lead me to a healthier lifestyle.