My Mother recently bought me a FitBit Ultra tracker. The FitBit is part-pedometer, part-sleep meter, part-calorie counter, and part-everything else. You wear it similarly as you would wear a pedometer, except the rules for attaching it to your person aren’t as rigid as a pedometer. For example, a pedometer must be placed in a specific location on or near your waist in order for it to track your steps. The FitBit, on the other hand, can be thrown into your pants pocket or even a shirt pocket among other places.
I wanted a FitBit Ultra for two reasons: to track my sleep and to track my activity levels. For a while now I’ve not been sleeping well. I’d say that I began noticing this back towards the end of April 2012; I figured that the FitBit could at least provide some level of tracking to see what was going on with my sleep.
In addition, I’ve gone from being an athletically active guy in high school to an academically and socially active guy in college (i.e. not working out in the gym, but still up and about) to a graduate student with so much free time that he lost 125 pounds (most of which has been gained back) to a guy with a good job which, unfortunately, requires about two hours of driving every day and the majority of my time being spent sitting at a desk staring at a computer. That’s some roller coaster for a body to go through over a 7 – 10 year period!
However, just like I began feeling that something was wrong with my sleep back in April, for some time now I’ve felt extra-sedentary. It’s a weird type of feeling to describe, but the feeling of being extra-sedentary is somewhat unnatural. It’s an interesting feeling in that you have the desire to go out and workout and you understand all of the motivational bullshit that folks like coaches and personal trainers try to sell you. But at the same time, you’re swamped with commitments and requirements that force you to sit behind a desk, in a car, at a meeting, on the phone, etc. for extended periods of time.
And that’s the key to understanding this extra-sedentary mode that some people fall in. There is a tremendous mental weariness and physical drain that comes with being an office worker, a long-term commuter, an active volunteer who does great things for causes at the result of lost free time, etc. If you can understand that drain and creeping innate exhaustion, then you can understand the feeling that I’ve been feeling for some time now.
Combine that feeling with a lack of sleep and, well, you don’t feel right. So I wanted the FitBit to track some of these items and this is what I found out:
Take a look at those statistics. They’re horrible! Those are my average outcomes for the week of July 1, 2012 – July 7, 2012. If you’re looking at that graphic and wondering what the 33,828 steps taken means, it means that I walk an average of 4,833 steps per day. That’s less than half of what you’re supposed to walk each day! That pie graph shows that 68.7% of my waking hours are spent in a sedentary mode with a scant 3.3% of my time spent in a “very active” mode. That’s terrible!
And then you have the sleep bar graphs. The first bar graph shows how long I slept each day that week. It may be hard to tell from the graph, but the average amount of sleep that I get each night is between 6 hours and 6 hours and 20 minutes. Wondering where that innate feeling of exhaustion comes from? There you go! The last bar graph shows that I wake up a lot when I sleep. I’d estimate that the average amount of times that I wake up is between 25 and 35 times each night. That’s terrible! FitBit provides a more exact tracking of your sleep on a daily basis showing exactly when you woke up and how long you were awake, but I don’t want to bog this post down with a ton of graphics. The point is that I don’t sleep well and these figures prove it.
There are other statistics that I can provide, but they aren’t the focus of this entry. For example, I always knew that I didn’t really eat that much (regardless of how much I weigh). By tracking my calorie intake through FitBit, I was able to confirm that I typically eat between 2,000 and 2,500 calories each day, which is right in line for what a guy of my size should be eating to maintain a decent level of health. I don’t need to track this through FitBit because I get quarterly blood tests and checkups at the doctor and I get it confirmed there, but I’ll track it anyway since it doesn’t take up much of my time.
This all begs the question – now what? Now that I have this information what is it that I plan to do with it? Well, I’m not entirely sure to be honest. I wanted to find some validation for what I thought to be true and I found that validation through the FitBit Ultra. What I need to do now is find a way to begin breaking the sedentary lifestyle. However, that’s a very tough task. For example, I look at my schedule for the coming week and I’m booked solid – in a forced sedentary mode – all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Saturday, I’m booked at two social events which will take up the bulk of my day. That leaves three days where I can potentially do something to get my activity levels up.
I suppose I could work out on those three days and I’m sure that I’ll do something active even if it’s just walking through the local mall or walking up and down the boardwalk by the beach. Yet, it all feels very disparate to me. In other words, it doesn’t seem like a long-term solution and, frankly, it doesn’t even seem like a short-term stop-gap measure.
In the end, I’m a data wonk (thanks, graduate school) and now I have a source of reasonably reliable data that confirms my prior suspicions. What this provides me is a better understanding of what I need to focus in on in order to improve my health. And those improvements center on two areas: higher activity levels and more restive sleep periods. If I can manage those two improvements, then they should combine with my already low caloric intake should put me in a much better physical condition.