What I Learned After a Year of Fitness Tracking

Yesterday, November 5th, was my first year anniversary of when I began tracking my daily activity daily. While I had used an array of trackers, apps, and fitness programs prior, November 5th was the day I decided to dedicate myself using a single system strictly for the whole year. What I learned over these 365 days surprised me, changing not only my dress size, but also my thoughts about wearable fitness technology.

Equipment: A year ago I decided it would be the Nike+ ecosystem I'd use to track my daily activity and fitness levels. The main components of the system used daily (or at the very least weekly) were the Nike+ Kinect title for the Xbox 360, the Nike Fuelband, a pair of Nike shoes with integrated sensors, and the Nike running app.

Goals: the three big milestones I hit this year are: 1. losing (and keeping off) 37 lbs, 2. getting better control of my asthma (through a dedicated physician approved fitness plan), and 3. improving my overall energy level without over indulging in caffeine.

4 Things I Learned Over the Year: So why did this work when so many other systems, be they fitness tracking or meal tracking apps and workout DVDs and gym memberships, failed? Here's what I believe resulted in these year-long positive results:

  1. I didn't have to do extra work to track my activity. Subtracting the minor task of sync and charging the Fuelband, donning the shoes with sensor, turning on the app before running, the system didn't require extra effort. But seeing the status of my runs and daily activity without needing to input anything manually was huge for me.
  2. I started off with a small goal. I didn't begin the year with the goal to lose a certain amount of weight, or even burn an extra 1,000 calories a day. I simply began with a modest goal of earning a certain number of Fuel points (Nike's tracking measurement) every day. As I started to hit this number with greater ease I was able to gradually increase it. The Fuel point goal made my activity goals reasonable and realistic. Only a little bit of stretch to hit daily, and easily trackable each day, reaching these goals offered positive feedback for small changes that added up.
  3. The system offered diversity. No matter whether I was using the Nike+Kinect at home, running at the gym, or simply taking the stairs when I could have opted for the elevator, everything was tracked without having to be locked into a single activity or location. I didn't have to commit to using one app (which I could easily grow bored with), nor a series of apps or systems. I didn't have manually enter everything into one dashboard to see where I was. This ability to mix things up throughout the week, while still offering the big picture of my overall activity, preventing boredom to set in, while also redefining all physical activity as valuable when considered as a whole throughout the day (e.g. "I'll take the stairs instead of the escalator" type of decisions).
  4. I could easily see my progress. Progress was not only experienced by how I felt after biking up a hill or trying on clothes, but changes were also viewable using the Nike+ dashboard. I could look back at weeks, months, and now a whole year and see what I'd completed, giving me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. I'm the geeky type, so I love looking at this kind of data. I only wish I could easily export this data to do more with it!

Prior to this year-long commitment, I had never had this kind of success with any fitness regimen before. The experience I've had using this specific ecosystem helped me see just how much technology can help when it comes to living a healthier life, wearable technology in particular. Wearable sensors offered a low level of commitment on my end, but a high rate of success of showing me how much or how little activity I was getting. This instant feedback proved valuable and altered my perspective about what, when, where, and how I was active throughout the day. Wearable technology alone is not going to make one healthier, but integrated into a system that fits individual needs, it is a very powerful tool.

Although I used a Nike+ system, there are numerous other fitness tracking systems which can help you get started on your own journey to a healthier life heading into 2014 (and despite my commitment to one, many others see results mixing and matching):

Fitbit: the latest Fitbit Force wearable activity wristband adds sleep tracking to the mix, alongside measuring steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, stairs climbed and active minutes throughout the day. A companion piece, the Aria, is a wi-fi smart scale which uploads weight figures automatically at each weigh-in, using the BMI metric for fitness progress monitoring.

Jawbone Up: like the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone Up is a slimmer style wristband (with companion app) that tracks how you sleep during the evening, and how you move and eat during the day. The system even offers an "idle alert", notifying you when it's time to get up and start moving, ideal for those of us commonly parked in front of a computer. The Up is also compatible with activity tracking apps like Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and more.

Fitocracy: not so much of a hardware solution, but rather a behavioral and activity scoring system using the gamification model, Fitocracy's site and app system allows users to track nearly any and every activity one could think of whether on an Android or iOS device. Fitness interests and goals are built around a scoring and badge-earning system for "leveling-up". If you're the type who loves the incentive of game-style goals of improving skillsets virtually, this system can possibly be the gateway for real world character building.

(Image credits: Joelle Alcaidinho)