What does all this data mean?

Last January, I purchased Jawbone UP devices on sale for Chris and I. He chose to wear his as a wristband. I chose to stick with the clip that it came with.

They each cost $25, and we had a $50 credit to Amazon. We were excited to try out the latest craze at a relatively low-cost (free for us) and see if it made a difference in our fitness levels.

The first few months we wore the devices, we challenged each other to step totals. We would do week long challenges which encouraged me to walk more during the day. Our goals were 10,000 steps per day. Most days, Chris would make the total, and I averaged around 7-8,000 steps for a good day.

It was a fun game, but after about three months the batteries died. We bought new batteries, as they are not rechargeable (which I preferred) and started back with weekly challenges. It was fun again for a little while, but then Chris’ device went through the wash cycle and hadn’t worked well since.

I kept on wearing my device, but over the summer I stopped. Once I went back to running regularly, I was topping 15,000 steps or more a day. I stopped wearing it knowing I was surpassing my goals easily with a training plan and the fun of the game became boring. When you win every day, where is the challenge?

I offered mine to Chris, but he has since stopped using it as well.

As I reflected back on this experience, I was thankful we didn’t spend $100 or more on each device to track our steps. It was the perfect price point to get into the craze, but without any guilt that, nine months later, we’re barely using the devices, one being completely unusable.

Recent studies have questioned the use of such devices on whether or not they change behaviors and help people become and stay active and healthy. I’ve seen mixed results just in my extended circle of friends and family who use them.

While I don’t know if they make a difference, as I know some people who have made tremendous gains in their quest for health, I question how much data do we need in our lives on a regular basis.

When I walk, I can track my steps. When I run, I can track my route via GPS and exact distance and time. When I ride my bike, more of the same. I can track my food intake. I can track my heart rate. I can track pretty much everything.

How much data is too much?

I won’t be able to answer the question because each answer depends on the person involved. Some people thrive on data, while others degrade.

For my experience, the data is fun on occasion to give me insights into incremental changes or improvements in my health, much the way a scale once per week gives me a small window into how my body is faring and if I need to consume less.

Overall, the amount of data available to me hasn’t made me a super human with amazing strength or one who can run hundreds of miles without stopping. If anything, at times it’s been limiting.

There may have been days where I reached 10,000 steps and gave up when I could’ve kept walking or doing more. There have been runs when my GPS watch made me feel inadequate because the last mile was much slower than the first. The data might ruin an otherwise perfect run or walk, based on my own comparisons to my old self, my goal self, or others.

I question how much data we need to live a healthier life. I find paying more attention to my body vs. the machine has helped me improve my health in the end. I’ve chosen to run more often without a watch, and walk without a purpose.

These are the things I think when out on an evening walk with my Monkey. We explored our neighborhood without any limitation or expectation surrounding our end data result. He was able to ask to head home by listening to his body, not a watch.

How much data do YOU need?

Ask yourself if it’s improving your life or distracting you from your real goals. Maybe take the watch off, go explore, and wander about for awhile without knowing how far or how long you’ve been gone. You might just surprise yourself.