Fit 50s, Sound 60s
diet and weight loss | food tracking | mood & emotion
In her early 50's, Maria was overweight, out of shape with bad knees and depressed. She was on meds so she made changes to her life, she started tracking her activity levels, weight, and food intake with wearable devices and apps. She has been tracking for almost 10 years, developing strategies for improving and maintaining her health as she ages.
Excel | Fitbit | Garmin GPS
In my early 50s I was overweight, out of shape with bad knees and when not cranky really depressed. I was already on meds for high blood pressure and was looking at the prospects of a lot more prescriptions down the road.
So what did I do to change my situation, I tracked my activity levels, weight, food intake with wearable devices and apps.
Until about 2011 I tracked inconsistently, but once I discovered all the array of all these apps and devices I became a lot more consistent about tracking my data.
10 years ago the idea of losing 50 pounds seemed really daunting, but going for a walk five days a week seemed less formidable. I bought a pedometer, hiking shoes, and off I went into the hills of my neighborhood.
After walking in a simple access database I created I recorded the number of steps, the duration of my walk, and calculated the distances I covered. I also charted back then my routes by naming the streets I walked and made notes about the weather and my mood.
Recording the data at that time turned out to be a form of reward in itself. At the start of this tracking project I think I enjoyed seeing the data grow a little more than I enjoyed those walks themselves. Eventually though the walks got longer and they turned into hikes, I took up the practice of yoga and added Pilates to my exercise repertoire.
They say you get fit in the gym, but you lose weight in the kitchen. So in September 20111 when I discovered Lose It! the calorie tracking app it became my virtual kitchen. On the surface Lost It! promised to help me track calories. But eventually it provided me with an overview of my eating patterns and let me see what foods I ate regularly, which of these spiked my weight even if my calorie intake stayed the same.
I noticed these relationships anecdotally at the time rather than finding statistical correlations between them as such. Tracking in Lose It! also made me realize that as much as I love bread and beer they are not my friends, and that was confirmed an allergist two years ago.
In November 2011 I added Endomondo, which is a real-time GPS sports community app to my tool box to track and map my walks. By December I added the Fitbit, since with it I could track how many steps I took and approximately better the number of calories I burned throughout the day rather than just in certain activities.
The Fitbit was like going back to the pedometer but to one on steroids almost. The Fitbit is great in tracking steps, but in the end I found it more useful as feedback for maintaining a pattern of the very active minutes it measures.
Since fitness depends on activity, increasing the very number of very active Fitbit minutes became very much a goal for me as a game, and at times it lead me in the 99 percentile with my averages. The Fitbit also turned out to be a catalytic tool because it spurred me onto push the perceived limits of my fitness abilities and possibilities. It put wheels under my dreams literally.
In the spring of 2012, I took up cycling for fun and to challenge a mental habit of always opting out of things because of the fear of failure, or thinking about somehow not age appropriate. Biking in turn added to my collection of gadgets and apps for tracking of all this data and all the metrics involved.
By late 2012 then in addition to Lost It! and Fitbit and Endomondo, I was now tracking all my workouts with my Garmin GPS watch with a heart rate monitor and my bike ride with a Garmin edge computer, and uploading all this data to the Garmin site, and to Endomondo and Strava, since each had strengths the other lacked for my perspective.
To complicate data gathering, in January 2012, I also started an Excel spreadsheet that tracked highlights from each of these apps in an application independent reference just for me. Here I record the type of activity, the duration, the distance if applicable, average and maximum heartrate, trauma and suffer points, the hours I slept and how the sleep seemed to me and any additional notes about the day I might think are relevant at some point.
The glut of gadgets and apps might earn me an entry into the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a new form of OCD. But exploring these tools was and still is my way of looking for a comprehensive and personalized way to track the quantifies in my habits and activities that make for a qualitative difference in my life, which brings me to what I learned so far from tracking.
What I learned throughout all these years is that small quantitative changes in particular daily habits add up to a big difference in quality of life in general. The incremental addition in my tracking methods and the number of gadgets I added over the years produced a lot of data which I haven’t analyzed closely yet, because I was already getting a lot of return from them in the form of new experiences in my life. The most memorable of these is me having completed a metric century ride last September.
In a space of little over a year I went from covering barely eight miles an hour on my first strides, to completing those 63 miles in five and a half hours, not a record by any means, but I finished and finished feeling I could do a lot more.
It has been said that motivation is what gets us up and going, but it’s habit that keeps us going. So it is with my tracking but the motivation was to lose weight. The habit of tracking and keeping an eye on those numbers are what helped me go from those daily small changes to a bigger transformation from the overweight, depressed, and achy person I was 10 years ago.
Through tracking I also learned that for me the act of tracking is the project itself in the end, although he data generated can be charted and describing numerical relationships, the number that brings me the information that makes a difference in my life is a simple one; were tracking one day at a time.
I’d love to see the new numbers like Garmin’s and Fitbits generate, but in the end the quantified Self for me is less about the measured life and more about keeping those numbers coming through a well lived and well enjoyed life. As I move from my fitter 50s to what I hope will keep on being my sounder 60’s.