I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.
I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:
But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?
Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.
I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered – like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange – but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.
On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!
Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.
Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.
I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.
The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.
Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.
These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):
That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.
Good afternoon, readers. It has been a long time since my last self-portrait. I have been so thoroughly brain-focused lately as I finish up the semester that I just needed a little bit of something tangible, a note to myself that non-brain parts of me exist.
As soon as I started thinking about that, I started thinking about how much I miss enjoying the non-brain parts of me, like the sweet moment where my body stops fighting the exertion process. I miss that space right before the endorphins hit, where everything and nothing feels, just feels, all at once.
Then I realized how long it had been since I felt that all-at-once space.
I got distracted, very distracted, by toys on my quest for better health. No surprise there. I like toys and I like data and I like tracking data with toys. But between Fitbit, HealthMonth, SparkPeople, DailyMile, and RunKeeper … I’ve lost the motivation to Do amidst all the Record.
SparkPeople was the first health-tracking website I joined a few years ago. Initially I was pretty turned off by the design, which seemed cluttered and ridden with things I didn’t need like homepages and message boards. I still think it could stand a redesign, but I like that it is a one-stop shop for tracking exercise, food/water consumption, and overall health goals. I also like the book and the iPhone app. Everything about SparkPeople seems focused on being positive about being healthy, which I appreciate immensely.
So far as the other type of health, I have always kept a diary, but my diary goals have simplified over the years. I used to want to archive it all, but there are many dull moments that I do not need to preserve for posterity. (Insert self-deprecating aside about my tweets.) I do, however, see a bit of value in comparing snapshots of my mental state over a few years. If nothing else, I hope to discern cognitive patterns more easily this way.
Here comes the five-year diary, making that stylish and easy for me. And I get to use my pens. The paper isn’t the best for fountain pen ink, but it is better than average. I like – theoretically, at least, for a few years – the ability to see little moments from my past right there on the same page.
So that’s where I am right now. And you? How do you track your health goals?