5,399,130 Steps & Something to Show for It

On June 5th, 2013 I strapped a Fitbit Flex to my wrist. Two years and five replacement bands later, I unceremoniously removed it. Not wanting my stick-to-itiveness to be for naught and my data to disappear forever, I downloaded the data and resolved to find some meaning in all my steps.

As I got started, it was easy to discover entertaining stats. For example, I logged close to 5.4 million steps, which translates to 2,594 miles. I also found that I averaged exactly 7 hours of sleep a night over those two years. Diversion aside, I didn’t find much value in all those numbers. It took a while to uncover anything insightful, but eventually a few things emerged.

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One of these is unlike the other
With the exception of Mondays, my step count grew steadily as the week went on, topping out on Saturday.

Steps are the standard unit of activity tracking and I had amassed quite a few. Figuring that this would be the richest source of insight, I started there. For weeks I processed my steps, visualizing them every which way trying to find patterns or some semblance of insight. Day to day my step count was nothing but random noise. The only significant pattern to emerge was a steep drop in steps on Sundays. 50 of the 104 Sundays totaled less than 5,000 steps while only one yielded a total over my daily goal of 10,000.

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Lost Data
White spaces represent time that is unaccounted for. I suspect that is when the battery was dead without any realization.

My downloaded data was categorized by Fitbit into three different groups; sleep, sedentary time, and active time. I plotted the data to see the breakdown of my activity each day across those three categories. What stood out wasn’t the patterns from what was there. Instead, the more interesting aspect was the missing minutes, represented by the white spaces on the chart above. There are 2,137 minutes unaccounted for over the two year span. The only logical explanation for those missing moments is that the battery was completely dead on my device. The lack of awareness of battery life cost me nearly a day and a half.

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Sleep Debt
The dark line towards the top represents even. Anything above that line represents a sleep surplus and any thing below represents a sleep debt.

Just like my steps, my sleep data was very erratic from day to day. I was struck by the fact that I averaged a round number of sleep over the course of two years. If my body indeed needed exactly 7 hours, then I was doing great. But I wanted to see just how much sleep debt I would have accrued if my body requires more than I was getting. At a half hour more sleep per night, I would have amassed a debt of an entire night within just 6 months. While I’m still not sure how much sleep my body needs, this stat seems much more meaningful than just a sum total of minutes asleep each night.

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Austin to Juneau

Turns out it’s exactly 2,594 miles between the state capitals of the two largest states in the union. Coincidentally, I walked 2,594 miles in two years. However, I did not walk from Austin to Juneau, though part of me wonders if I could actually do it.

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After spending a couple months digging for insights in my Fitbit data, I now have something to show for all those logged steps. It’s not much, but it’s more meaningful than a few rows in a spreadsheet.

Given this retrospect, I think I would have learned more about myself had I spent those two years walking from the Lone Star State to the Last Frontier. But only if I documented every detail of the trek.