The other day I came across a picture of me taken last July, and I almost didn’t recognize myself. You see, a steady diet of pizza and other comfort foods–plus a neglect of any sort of exercise habit–had helped me pack on several extra pounds. Since that time, however, I’ve returned to my middle-aged cruising weight through the simple, common-sense strategy of incorporating exercise back into my routine and being more attentive to what (and how much) I eat. Doing both of these things was made easier, in part, by a couple of online tools that help me track my actions. In short, I can track my input (calories consumed), my output (calories burned), and my weight.
There is no shortage of such tools, hardware as well as software: there are pocket-sized gadgets such as the FitBit and the DirectLife, social-media enabled sites such as MapMyRun/MapMyRide and RunKeeper, various smartphone apps, and the gadget that perhaps kicked off the digital fitness tool trend, the Nike+.
Mark McClusky has dubbed this trend “Living by Numbers”; McClusky’s 2009 Wired cover story described a
legion of people, from Olympic-level athletes to ordinary folks just hoping to lower their blood pressure, who are plugging into a data-driven revolution. And it goes way beyond Nike+. Using a flood of new tools and technologies, each of us now has the ability to easily collect granular information about our lives—what we eat, how much we sleep, when our mood changes.
And not only can we collect that data, we can analyze it as well, looking for patterns, information that might help us change both the quality and the length of our lives. We can live longer and better by applying, on a personal scale, the same quantitative mindset that powers Google and medical research. Call it Living by Numbers—the ability to gather and analyze data about yourself, setting up a feedback loop that we can use to upgrade our lives, from better health to better habits to better performance.
How about you?
What are your favorite tools and methods for keeping track of health and fitness? Are they digital and web-enabled? Are they analog, pen-and-paper strategies? In what ways do they help you reach your goals, whether those goals are simply weight loss or something more ambitious, like training for a marathon?
Let us hear from you in the comments section! In a couple of weeks I’ll post a roundup of reader input.