Why do I log my fitness and health data every single day?
You can get to know yourself in plenty of ways. Through analyzing your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions to your own environment or through the reactions of others. My personal method of self-knowledge roots in data. I’ve been quantifying my health since 1997 – way before the boom in the wearables and fitness trackers market. I learned that I cope better with stress through data, my bedtime is more relaxing and I simply live healthier with the help of technology.
Why did I start? I simply want to live to my full mental, emotional and physical capacity as long as possible. And I know that my health and fitness are my own responsibility. No one can change my body or my mind except for myself through meaningful work. So I took action.
I started to collect data on a piece of paper. I gave a score from 1 to 10 to my mental, physical and emotional health, and I disciplined myself to follow through every day. Starting in 2016, an Excel spreadsheet took over the paper notes, and I’ve been refining the system step by step ever since – according to the technological changes (new fitness trackers such as my latest fitness pal) or my changing needs.
If you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, perhaps you need to change something. Data could help you figure out what and how you might want to do differently. Let me show you my example from last year.
My goals and my results in 2017
The basic measurements which I worked out in my Excel spreadsheet experiment have not changed. I track physical activity, mental and emotional well-being, meditation, sleep, reading or learning a language. Yet, beyond the measurement of these „general factors”, I work out some goals specific for a given year. In 2017, I wanted to exercise more than ever in my life, read more books, dedicate time to reaching mindfulness and learn Spanish.
In 2018, my plan is to learn new skills every day and ensure their long-term development. It doesn’t matter whether it is playing chess or familiarizing myself with a new technology, it must become part of my life. But let’s get back to last year’s goals and results before the work in the new year truly starts.
1) Physical activity
I need to exercise almost every day to be able to focus on my cognitive tasks. Moreover, I literally want to be ready if the chance of becoming an astronaut arrives and I need to get in excellent shape. So I tried to do my best in 2017, too.
I only measured highly intensive physical activities such as playing football, running, working with a personal trainer at the gym doing functional training or using TRX at home.
My Final Score: 27 minutes of intensive exercise per day on average
2) Mental health
For me, mental health means a high level of cognitive abilities to be able to solve complex problems and to be focused and flexible in my way of thinking at the same time. Basically, how vigorously I have to concentrate on a given day. I have a highly subjective rating system where 10 was my Ph.D. defense presentation, while on a 5-score-day I’m rather relaxed and only read books without working hard. As the graph shows, I had one vacation this year.
My Final Score: 7.5
3) Emotional health
I define emotional health in connection with a general well-being/happiness level and stress. Ideally, you are emotionally healthy if your general happiness level is high while your stress level is relatively low. So, I created a similarly subjective score for measuring it as in the case of my mental health. On the scale, 10 is when I’m happier than ever, 1 is when something really bad happens.
My Final Score: 7.7
4) Mediation and mindfulness
I measure it in minutes spent meditating without interruptions. Previously, I used various gadgets for this task: the awesome Headspace application, the Muse or PIP. But lately, I’m experimenting with meditation without any help from technology. In 2016, my goal was to reach five minutes per day. As I clearly failed at meeting this target, I tried to redefine my method for 2017.
I have to be honest and tell you that I failed again last year. My average mediation sessions per day lasted only for 2.5 minutes. I rather meditated less frequently but for longer sessions. I should change this again in 2018. I set my goal to 10 minutes per day – as I honestly think that I should have 10 minutes for mindfulness a day!
5) Learning languages
I’ve been measuring language learning in the number of lessons done on Duolingo. I completed the French and Spanish lesson series twice – and received the respective Golden Owls, but I still don’t have the feeling I could chat with Penelope Cruz over a Mai Thai. I have to find a method replacing Duolingo. However, I do think that it highly develops your vocabulary.
My Final Score: 4.5 Duolingo lessons per day on average
I measure it in minutes spent reading paperback (and only paperback!) books without interruptions a day. And of course reading is not about quantitative but rather qualitative aspects, but a geek like me gets inspiration in data. I got even more determined regarding every-day reading after I found out in a study that our brain loves reading, too. It does not purely consider reading a page a banal act, but when a character in the book jumps off a cliff, our brain behaves as if we jumped too. Reading thrills our brains keeps it fresh and healthy.
My Final Score: 17 minutes per day on average– which I did not find enough so I raised the stakes for 2018. My goal is to read 30 minutes on average every day.
I measure the changes in kilograms. My smart Fitbit Scale has also been tracking my weight but I wanted to see this in context of the other goals. In 2016, my average was 82.5, while last year it decreased to 81 kilograms. On one hand, it is the result of more conscious eating habits, on the other hand it is the consequence of a brutal infection during the summer when I lost 6 kilograms in 2-3 days. You can spot it on the graph.
My Final Score: 81 kilograms
I’ve been using my jackpot combination for sleep tracking for many years: the Sleep as Android app paired with the Pebble Time smartwatch. The sensor measures my movements – when I go to bed, when I fall asleep, when I wake up, it displays the duration of sleep, deep-sleep, and REM – while the app is the primary source of algorithms. My personal favorite is the smart sleep alarm which ensures me to wake up at the best possible time – even when my months-old baby girl wakes me up during the night in the room next to me. So, although I clearly have challenges, I learned so many tricks of the trade during the past couple of years that my results are quite good in this area.
My Final Score: 4.5 out of 5 points on average on a scale from 1 to 5 as I evaluate it in my Sleep as Android app.
9) My Success Score
As a real geek, I invented a success score for myself only with ones and zeros. If I had a wonderful day when everything went as I planned, this day scores as a 1, all the other days from a potential zombie apocalypse to life-impeding snow storms count as zero. At least one day out of five should score 1. At the end of 2017, I scored more than one days out of five as good days. Yet, I also figured that it might be unfortunate to measure complex events in a too simple binary code, so I decided to halt scoring.
My Final Score: 0.3
Change starts with an empty Excel spreadsheet
If you add up physical activity, meditation, learning, reading, language learning, it is around 1.5 hours a day. It sounds like a lot but you should have this much time for yourself and your own development beyond your work, family and other activities. I wake up very early to achieve it. Your general health cries for at least this much time.
There is no perfect system, but I’ve been doing the Excel spreadsheet measurements for two years already, and it works. I still do the required “maintenance” work from time to time. For example, I control each and every month whether the measurements have an articulate, meaningful target. But I learn a lot about my needs, I learn new methods, for example in terms of stress management and I learn something new every day – no matter how small that would be.
My ultimate advice? Self-care and balancing our physical-mental-emotional health could start with a piece of paper – or a downloadable Excel spreadsheet!