the quantified self

Over the past few years, I’ve been using a variety of apps and devices to keep track of all sorts of things about myself, primarily related to my health and well-being. It’s been on my mind lately that you might be interested in these as well, so here’s a brief run-down of what I’m using today.

Fitbit OneThe Fitbit One is no longer manufactured by Fitbit, which is too bad. I’ve had one of these devices for a little over five years (thanks to Marie), and I’m on my third one with a fourth in reserve. It’s small enough to fit in my pocket, even with the holder/clip. It tracks my steps fairly accurately (I’ve tested it periodically), as well as distance covered and the quality of my sleep. It has been my primary health app/device for most of the time I’ve been measuring myself, and though it has its limitations, I still appreciate the core functions. [Side note: I have tried one of the wristband style trackers and I didn’t like it. The neoprene strap made my wrist sweaty, and the step counts seemed less accurate. I liked the heart-rate monitor aspect, but not enough to deal with the annoyances of a thing on my wrist. How I managed to wear a wristwatch for most of the first quarter of my life, I can’t imagine now.]

SyncSolver app iconFitbit decided to not play nicely with the Apple Health universe, but another app developer built SyncSolver to fix that. Since I have my Fitbit on me more than my phone (and it seems to be more accurate than the built-in pedometer on the iPhone), I use this to sync my steps to Apple Health for other apps to read. More on those below.

SleepCycle regular sleep graphA little over a year ago, I became concerned about the quality of my sleep. I downloaded an app that I no longer use and can’t remember the name of to track my snoring, which was far more frequent and vociferous than I thought. I began experimenting with things to improve my sleep quality, from nasal strips (not helpful) to a contoured memory foam pillow (helpful). In the process, I ran across the SleepCycle app. It’s a smart alarm that listens to your sleep and based on the programming, can determine where you are in your sleep cycle throughout the night. As it gets closer to when the alarm is set (within a half an hour, to be exact), if it sounds like you are in a lighter part of your sleep cycle, it will play the sound or song you selected to wake you up. It can also note (and record) when you are snoring and assesses the over-all quality of your sleep. I have two cats, and it seems to know when the noise making is coming from me versus them, which is both amazing and kinda weirds me out. Anyway, it’s been useful for figuring out what I need to do to sleep better. I can sync the sleep data to Apple Health, were it can be read by other apps as needed.

Strides app screenshotLast fall, as a part of my ongoing effort to get better sleep, I was looking for a tool to help encourage me to go to bed on time and wake up when my alarm goes off, rather than staying up too late and hitting snooze or turning off the alarm altogether. A regular schedule is generally believed to be helpful for sleeping better. I started using an app called Strides to keep track of my progress. In January, I added a workouts tracker to provide me with an easy overview of how often I’m doing that this year and how close to the 218 in 2018 I’m able to hit. At the current rate (37  out of 112 days), it will be more like 118, but it’s better than sitting on the couch. None of this syncs with Apple Health, but I don’t need it to.

Fitocracy app screenshot mid-workoutI’ve been a member of the Fitocracy website for several years now, but only in the past couple years did it become useful to me thanks to a more functional app. I prefer to do strength training rather than cardio at the gym (though I make myself do some cardio), and this app is very helpful for keeping track of what I did the last time and guiding me through the workout this time. There’s also a community/social aspect, as well as gamification (you get points for each exercise depending on how challenging it is to do), if that’s your thing. Since so few of my friends use it regularly, I don’t focus on those features much. As you’re going through your workout, you can edit the weight, reps, and sets if you end up doing more or less than you planned. If there is an example video, it will be at the top of the screen, and clicking on it will make the video play. This is helpful if you want to make sure you’re using proper form or need to remember an exercise you haven’t done in a while. It also indicates how many more exercises you have planned (the circles at the bottom of the screen) and what the next exercise set will be. None of the data from this app will sync with anything else, but it’s so useful in an of itself, I don’t mind.

MyFitnessPal screenshotI reinstalled MyFitnessPal in mid-January and have been diligently tracking my food, water, and cardio minutes. This syncs with Apple Health and Fitbit, which is useful for keeping tabs on key nutrients, since Fitbit’s food logger is not great. I used this app a few years ago, and as with others, got frustrated because it was so hard to be precise without measuring out every morsel I consumed. This time it seems to be easier, in part because the food database has expanded, and in part because I’ve let myself not care about the details too much. Part of changing my diet means eating less convenience food and eating more whole foods, preferably that I cooked myself. The challenge is that convenience foods also conveniently have their nutritional content displayed on the package with a barcode to save me even the effort of typing. I’m taking a horseshoes and hand-grenades approach this time — close enough will work. Also, I’m trying to focus more on the macro goals in addition to the caloric limits. What I’ve re-learned in all of this is that lean protein is not nearly as appealing as fatty protein, and I tend to eat very dense foods such that I can consume a lot of calories without feeling like I’m over-eating.

Happy Scale app screenshotLastly (and most recently), on the recommendation of my friend Jenica, I’ve started using the Happy Scale app to track my weight trends. It takes a long-term goal and break it down in to smaller, more immediately achievable goals, showing progress along the way. Although I am logging my weight every day (immediately after I wake up and use the toilet), it’s focused more on averages than that specific day’s weight. The data syncs with Apple Health, which is how other apps like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit get updated. The scale and this app only measure my entire body mass, which isn’t the whole focus of my fitness goals, so I also have a hand-held body fat monitor that I check periodically, usually only when the scale numbers have moved. Since I’m strength training, the scale numbers might go up with the addition of muscle mass that is denser than fat mass. At some point, I should do tape measurements, but for now I’m relying on the fit of my clothing to let me know if things are changing there.

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