Quantified Self is the name given to the movement that marries self help with data.
It’s all the wearable sensors and monitors that can track your heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise, calories consumed, and so much more. It’s all the filters, mobile apps, and data visualizations that analyze your performance. And it’s the social-sharing of data.
Self-monitoring isn’t a new idea.
Athletes have always tracked their nutrition, training, and performance. Dieters keep food journals, and migraine or allergy sufferers are counseled to keep journals that track their triggers. What’s new is our ubiquitous connectivity and the amount of data that can easily be captured. Tiny trackers can be clipped and strapped to body parts and embedded in clothing and everyday objects. Sensors can be hyper-specific taking the measure of every step, breath, and heartbeat, charting blood oxygen levels, sleep quality, sexual arousal, and how many swipes you make with your toothbrush.
Quantified Self has exploded in the world of diet and nutrition.
Early adopters were known as ‘body hackers,’ festooned with arm bands, ear tags, day-glo goggles, and dangling lead wires. They monitored everything that went in and plenty of what came out, all in the name of science.
Most of us are not so interested in counting intestinal bacterial colonies and correlating butter intake with math skills. We just want some help to stay on track with our health and fitness goals, maybe lose a few pounds, and eat more healthfully. The new generation of devices does just that, and early studies suggest that they work.
You can go crazy with all the options. There are devices just for swimmers, bodybuilders, and rock climbers. You can strap a monitor to your wrist for readings of your heart and respiratory rates, optical blood flow, perspiration, and skin temperature. There’s even a dieter’s fork that monitors every bite you put in your mouth. Barring any health concerns that require monitoring, you’ll do just fine with a set-up that includes apps to track diet and exercise, plus a scale so you can measure progress. Then you can go forth and quantify.
My Fitness Pal is the king of the calorie counting apps with 30 million registered users and a killer database. It’s basically a simple food tracker for your cell phone, but its food knowledge is scarily comprehensive. You can scan in foods through your phone’s camera, and it also seems to know all the recipes from all the major cookbooks, magazines, and websites. It never seems to take more than a tap or two to tell it what you ate, and it’s never stumped when it comes to the corresponding nutritional data. It’s also free, is available for iPhones, Blackberrys, Android, and Windows devices, and syncs with the app’s website.
With the diet piece in place, you’ll want to quantify your activity level. The Fitbit One is the shape and heft of a stick of Trident on a paper clip. Clip it to your clothes or tuck it in your pocket during the day and it records the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, distance traveled, and calories burned. When your travels take you to the vicinity of your computer it automatically sends data updates to FitBit’s website, and it wirelessly syncs to any diet or fitness apps on your cell phone. Wear it at night and it measures your sleep by both hours and degree of restfulness.
Step on the Withings Body Scale and it measure weight, lean and fat mass, and calculates your body mass index. It tracks trends in your weight and body composition, and connects by wi-fi to your phone where it shares the information with your calorie counter and exercise apps. It can integrate data from the other programs to produce some nifty graphs. If you’re a fan of sharing TMI, it’s also twitter-enabled.