Thursday, December 13, 2012

Good data can make you thin

BodyMedia, FitBit, Withings
Tuesday and Wednesday's workouts (treadmill): 50 minutes (total)

Yesterday was a busy day for me and I didn't get a chance to post. During the first part of the day, I attended a session on the future of journalism that was put on by the MIT Media Lab. I've been representing my company at MIT for over a decade and I always find it interesting to hear views on the direction of media from students and faculty. The theme that repeated throughout the dozen or so talks centered on the way data and data visualization is shaping news reporting.

On the same theme, I just read an article in the November issue of Men's Journal called, "Living By the Numbers" that examines how targeted data can directly contribute to personal fitness. The writer used tools like BodyMedia, FitBit and the Withings Body Scale to capture and track calories and performance metrics.

For some reason I expected the article to present a negative view of these devices, but  it actually supported their use. The writer started off at 195 lbs with a BMI of 25.7 and ended up losing over twenty pounds by the end. He didn't specify the time period for when that happened, but my own experience tells me that your weight can come down quickly once you've committed to a program.

An important point that the writer made was that interest in these tools diminishes over time. He likens it to the infatuation stage of new relationship that gives way to a more realistic viewpoint. In addition, the process of tracking certain things (like calorie intake) can become a real burden. The key point is that good data helps an athlete maintain awareness of diet and effort, and that can lead to improvement.

This may all seem self evident, but the way data is acquired and the way it's applied can make a big difference. In the end, it's not the gadget that puts us into better shape, it's the effort that we put into the process. However, good data seems to provide the type of feedback that will help keep us on track.

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