On Christmas day, I unwrapped a brand new piece of jewellery. It was predominantly purple, had a little sparkle, and a catch that was incredibly hard to do-up; in many respects it had the characteristics of a normal wrist accessory.
However, this shiny little new companion wasn’t just a pretty face – it was a Jawbone UP2.
Fitness trackers are nothing new – they’ve been logging the movements of fitness fanatics all over the world for years and there are a myriad of different versions that can track everything from specific exercise to resting heart rate and even hydration.
Unlike the UP3, which tracks heart rate and can give you your resting heart rate each morning, the UP2 just logs your sleeping patterns and activity through steps. You can also set ‘Idle Alerts’ so that the bracelet will warn you when you’ve been immobile for too long - and you can record your overall calorie intake thanks to a huge library of foods that can be ‘logged’ as well as your mood, weight, non-step based workouts and more, all via the Jawbone app.
I’ve been wearing the UP2 for over three weeks now, and it’s certainly opened my eyes to a few home truths. Here are a few handy lessons I picked up…
I don’t always sleep as well as I thought
The Jawbone UP2 tracks your sleep by assessing your movement – when you’re totally still it assumes you’re in ‘deep sleep’, when you move a little it’s considered ‘light sleep’ and lots of movement and you’re well and truly awake. Therefore, I imagine the results can’t be taken as absolute as it’s all a matter of algorithms and guesstimation. However, based on my own anecdotal evidence I'd say it is fairly accurate. The only really incorrect results happened when the bracelet had fallen off in my sleep.
I had considered myself a pretty competent sleeper. I'm usually in bed for about eight hours, and I’d class that as ‘about eight hours sleep’. Not so – I soon discovered that eight hours in bed does not necessarily constitute a good night’s sleep. In fact, I could be in bed for eight hours and sleep for just six.
There were other times, when sleep was clearly needed – I was out like a light and for far longer than normal. Seeing the level of sleep required at those times certainly helped me to better understand when my body was screaming out for recovery.
The sleep logging facility was absolutely my favourite. If I were disciplined enough I could probably log my evening activities – when my last dose of caffeine was and when I turned off screens – drawing correlations between action and good sleep.
My only criticism is that sometimes on the day of a big meeting or a breakthrough workout you don’t actually want to know that what you're recalling as a solid eight hours in bed was actually six hours of tossing, one of turning, and one hour of light sleep.
I’m really pretty inactive on work days and ride days
When you first set up your Jawbone, you’re asked to set an ‘activity target’ based on the number of steps you want to walk each day. The pre-set target is 10,000 steps, so being a fairly fit and mobile person I left it as it was.
Over Christmas, this was easy to maintain. I was staying with my parents, so each day started with a one hour turbo session – after that I was wondering round the shops, going for walks and the such. I hit 10,000 steps most days with no problem. The Jawbone UP2 was very happy with me.
As soon as I was back to work, my routine settled back to normal. As a work-from-home journalist, that means on 'writing' days (non-interviewing/exploring days) I generally slide out of bed, into my study via the coffee machine, and stay there pretty solidly with a one hour to ninety minute ride break at lunch time. Maybe a swim or short strength session in the evening (in my mini home gym - more reasons not to leave the house!). My steps fell off a cliff and I realised that aside from short sessions on the bike, in the pool or gym, I'm basically a massive couch potato.
On weekends when I was logging a long ride, the pattern was much the same – but rather than work at a screen and take a break for cycling, I’d cycle and then spend the afternoon mulling over coffee with friends. Sitting down.
Sure – my lunch time rides and long rides keep me in cycling shape and will hopefully prepare me for the race season ahead. However, being sat at a desk and then sat on a bike is a recipe for shortened hip flexors, an unhappy lower back and incredibly stiff legs.
Thankfully, I soon discovered that finding excuses to nip out for a walk (buying milk the most common) meant this total sloth like behaviour was easy to kick – but I’d not have bothered without seeing the stark contrast between 'work days', 'ride days' and 'just being a human days'.
I am not cut out to calorie count (but the differance between products and brands is extreme)
The Jawbone app allows you to log food - either by searching popular items, scanning a barcode, or taking a photo of your meal.
I quickly discovered that my own personal view on this was that life is, basically, too short. I can see that if you had a goal to lose weight, or specifically needed to target a certain food group this would be incredibly useful, but I'm less so inclined.
What I did find incredible was the vast differences between individuals products, when they've been processed in some way by a brand. For example: porridge. According to the app, 40g of porridge oats contains 149 calories. I'd always add milk and protein powder, plus a banana and maybe some berries (you see, why I can't be bothered to log all of my food?). But the app also gives figures for porridge from 'LighterLife' (just 127 calories) right up to 363 calories for a serving of 'Dorset Cereals Porridge'. Interesting, huh?
Though I might not log it every time I put food in my mouth (I'd have no time to live!), I soon discovered the app was a helpful way of quickly checking the content of meals from fast food chains and well known brands. Top of the list of shockers was the Wagamama Chicken Katsu Curry - at 1103 calories (I had to break it to my mum, sad news as it's her favourite).
Taking a break...
After three weeks of having the UP2 firmly planted on my wrist, Jawbone and I took a little break. What with logging training progress via Training Peaks, individual sessions, thoughts and energy levels via a paper diary, and work events via an online calendar (and briefly a bullet journal!), I wasn't sure I needed or desired another way to track my progress - in life.
After a brief cooling-off period of a couple of days, the sleep and movement tracker is back on my wrist. But I'm reducing my steps goal to something a little more manageable...
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