Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Did I Learn After A Month Of Lifestreaming?

We are living in interesting times. The technology to track every step, minute of sleep, calorie consumed, and heartbeat is literally at our fingertips.

This blog pulls together two of my own stories:

1. Lifestreaming starting at a young age - keeping track of every penny I have ever earned and spent, scanning every document as proof, and digitizing every photo going back generations. More on that story here.

2. After 6 months of owning the Apple Watch, I can now give my official thumbs up on the product. I was hesitant at first, citing 10 reasons on why to buy it and 8 reasons why not to. More on that here.

Tools of the Lifestreaming Trade

First of all, I didn't go nuts on equipment - no blood pressure monitors, wearable cameras, audio recording devices, etc.

What I did use:

Apple iPhone
Apple Watch
Withings WIFI Scale
Sleep++ App
MyNetDiary App

This was sufficient to give me insight into every moment of the day, 24/7. I started on November 1st, and my primary goal was to watch and regulate my sugar intake (a day after Halloween of course).

What I Learned

Working in a computer related job makes it difficult to get to the magical 10,000 step count that every magazine and fitness wearable manufacturer seems to be touting. Other than some family walks and Black Friday shopping, the average is 3,851 for me. That results in 1.84 miles per day.

I use my weekly hockey game as high-intensity exercise. Averaging 96 minutes of aerobic exercise a week keeps me in reasonable shape.

I learned long ago that fitness is scientific. If you can get 20-30 minutes of high intensity workout, 3 times per week, you will be in the top 5th percentile in fitness in North America. This doesn't mean walking or warming up at the gym - it means high heart rate, deep sweat type of working out.

Using the Apple Watch 24/7, I can gauge heart rate every minute of the day. On the days I have hockey you can see spikes up to 200 beats per minute. This is beyond my maximum, but those games have me between 135bpm and 180bpm which is optimal.

I do realize that I am not lifting at the gym which isn't optimal - aerobic and weight training should be combined for optimal metabolism and injury avoidance.

Sleep is a critical component of health. Not getting enough (or getting too much) is not good for you and a simple Sleep++ App combined with my Apple Watch monitored every second of sleep.

I was pleased with the 7 hour 30 minute average but there were some 5 hour ones tucked in there. The quality of sleep was about 95% meaning I only tossed and turned about 20 minutes a night.

I also fall asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow which is great. November had me going to bed, on average, after 1am which is not ideal.

Now for the fun part.

By tracking every meal, every snack, and even every vitamin I take, some interesting results were produced.

I learned that tracking every bite ended up putting me on a diet - I only ate one desert in November which was Apple Pie the day after Thanksgiving. My original goal was to curb sugar in my diet and that ended up restricting my calories to 1,579 per day.

This intake is too low for a guy my size.

The app further breaks down food into dozens of nutrients and other components. Here is a sample of the daily averages:

The 1,579 calorie average drove 202 Carbs, higher than Atkins would approve of, but significantly lower than my normal. Fat and saturated fat stayed in an acceptable zone and protein was always in a good range.

The real stat I was after was sugar. Consuming 76 grams per day was probably half my normal intake and very difficult to do. In fact, starting my day with an apple, mandarin orange and banana already put me half way there.

The World Health Organization recommends 50 grams of sugar per day and I am not sure how to get there without cutting out fruit.

I am not sure the Withings scale has this completely accurate, but it did show a gradual decline in body fat percentage during the month of November.

The thing that is accurate is weight - take a look at this decline in November driven by a limited sugar / calorie diet with normal exercise:

I ended up losing over 10 pounds in the month. Not ideal as the target should be 1-2 pounds per week maximum. It was definitely interesting to see what a shift in eating would do while keeping other variables constant.

It is a recommendation that experts give - if you want to change behavior, write it down! In this case, technology did the writing down for me and having this as a constant reminder did in fact change almost everything I ate.

The question is whether this is sustainable in the long term. The technology is still a bit manual - having to record food and tell your watch when you are going to work out or sleep begs for human error.

These technologies will get better with time - more predictive and utilizing machine learning. Recording food by UPC code was slick, and there are now services that you can just take a photo of your food and someone else will determine portion size and calorie content.

All in all, a good experiment and I am excited to see wearable technology drive better nutrition and life choices in the future.