Tuesday, 25 February 2014

From Runner to Sloth – what’s the value of wristbands ?

'....calories were for burning and not counting.....'

At the age of seven I was being taught the rudiments of skiing in the forests above Oslo; by ten I was running everywhere, in my teens I was subjected to rigorous Summer athletics training and as my working life started so I tried to train in 10 day cycles: nine on and one off.  To me and my mates calories were things we burnt and we needed lots of them – we certainly didn’t need to watch them.

But time marches on and drags us all down with it.  In my case it was a matter of going from extreme activity to the normal existence of office life where we tend to take no more exercise than required to replenish our tea or coffee, with the occasional stroll to a meeting or perhaps some long distance travel.  Whatever, these are physically slothful activities in which calories do become important, intakes need to be watched and, if we are not careful, our condition deteriorates.

About two years ago along came a variety of fitness devices – small wristbands that purported to measure activity, and in some cases sleep, calories taken and, in one device, time.  I was instantly entrapped by these things and worked my way through the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone’s UP and now the Fitbit Flex.  Each has its strongpoints, but are they useful or are they just gimmicks ?

After 14 months of trial and error I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst of reduced value to the super-active, they do, within their limits have a very definite place in the lives of we who are members of the vast Tribe of the Human Sloth. 

Why ?

v  They set targets.  For some reason the Health & Fitness industry has decreed that we should move 10,000 steps in each 24 hours and that’s surprisingly difficult to achieve if all you do is go to work by some mechanical means, sit around all day with brain fully engaged but body relaxed, and then go home, possibly via an inviting pub, again by mechanical means.  I’ve noticed that on such a day I rarely surpass 6,000 steps.

v  They measure intake.  After an inactive day it comes as a bit of a shock to see on the App of whichever device you are using, figures in red showing that total calories consumed have exceeded those used up.  We don’t want too many of those days.

v  They provide reminders.  The Fitbit Flex sends little messages when you are getting near the day’s target and then congratulates you if and when you pass the magic 10,000 (it also vibrates at that point, which can cause you to spill that end-of-day glass of wine if the lifting of the latter coincides with the sudden vibration !).

v  They provide competition, which may or may not be a good thing.  These devices can, if you let them, communicate with different social media channels and so allow your friends and colleagues see how you are getting on.  This can introduce an element of fun.  A training regime that has some fun in it will always be more effective than one that’s all about hard work.

As with all things these measurement devices are only effective if used consistently.  Entering food and liquids consumed, and various daily activities can become a bit tiresome.  But if used consistently and with an aim, I do believe that they can change behavior, monitor what we are doing in a positive way and, in some cases, provide clear evidence to our medical minders that we are, or are not, following their guidelines.

I suspect also that we’d better get used to this sort of thing because some day, perhaps not so far off, our Doctors will expect us to pass them a device that they will be able to interrogate as part of their Consultancy in order to find out exactly what’s going on.

The future’s (almost) here !
Jonathan Thomson is COO of Branding Science.

As part of our Digital Work, Branding Science has extensive experience with these devices.
For more information, please get in touch!

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