On Activity Bands (part 1)

Why I wanted an activity band?

My avoided future

The idea of an activity band appeals to me when I saw the first Jawbone and Fitbit products in 2013.

I was turning into a sloth.

Back then I spent any where from 8 to 10 hours of my day mostly seating at my desk or in meetings, add to that 2 hours of commute a day and it is very clear that I was turning into a sloth. I was looking for something to get me off my ass and I though that tracking my steps would make me more active.

Early experiments

I upgraded my 4 years old iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 5s to use its motion co-processor to start tracking my steps by diligently keeping my phone in my pocket at all times. Using the Fitbit application to track my activity, I finally realized how much (or shall I say, how little) I moved.

This original step up was working, I could already notice changes in my behavior to reach my daily 10,000 steps target.

I was booking meetings further away from my desk just for the extra steps.

While I was already taking the stairs in the office when the lifts were full (instead of waiting for the next lift), now I was taking them all the time. I was booking meetings further away from my desk just for the extra steps I would take. I was walking my dogs longer in the evenings as a last effort to reach my 10,000 steps goal.

I was doing all this with out even having a lot of friends in the Fitbit app as a peer pressure group. The devices were still fairly new in China only a couple of my friends had one.

By early 2014 I was convinced that this was the right method for me to do a minimum level of activity everyday. It was time to upgrade.

What I though I needed in an activity band

In the spring of 2014, I started researching the different bands on the market and reading many reviews. I initially set my choice on a Fitbit Force as one of the first bands with sleep analysis. By the time I finished my research they were pulled out of the market due to allergic reactions to the band material.

I settled on the Jawbone up24. The Jawbone had a lot going for it: sleep analysis, longer battery life than the Fitbit and a smart coach feature that was supposed to learn from my activity. All of those were very appealing to me. I had sleeping issues the year before and I was curious about my sleeping patterns. I was sold and looking forward to learn more from the smart coach.

To top it off, Jawbone has the UP Platform, an open platform for 3rd parties to integrate their own products. One 3r party caught my eyes: Whistle, an activity tag for dogs. The promise was that Jawbone would learn from my activity with my dogs and I would get insights on our joint physical activity.

I came back from a trip to theUS with a Jawbone up24 and 2 Whistle tags. The dogs and I were setup.

What I learned

Through 18 months of usage I learn a lot about what I really needed in an activity band — versus what I though I needed — and this is my attempt at sharing those insights with you.

  1. Step count accuracy does not really matter. As long as the band is not off by much, you will still be active. More important is the ease of use to ensure you stay engaged. The most important feature, in my eyes, is to have an automatic reminder when I have been idle for too long. The haptic vibration is perfect for this as it does not interfere with my work while still obvious enough.
  2. Size Matters! Jawbone sizing is a bit of a hit or miss due to the up24 design. There is no buckle to adjust the fit. Initially the fit or the large size, even though a bit loose, was comfortable. As the band aged it became looser to the point it had a hard time fitting inside my shirts wrists or moving too much. Straps is the way to go and Jawbone desing has moved on as well.
  3. Convenience and usage discipline is proportional to battery life. Having more than a full week on a full battery meant I could charge the band when it was convenient for me, without anxiety of running out of power in the middle of the day. My wife usage discipline is lower, she sometimes leave the band at home because it run out of power and it is not convenient for her to charge it.
  4. Sleep quality is as important as physical exercise. Thanks to the haptic reminder I became more consistent on my bed time. The band had a direct impact. I now clock in a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, with consistently more deep sleep than light sleep. I feel well rested and I get up easily.

My Recommendations

So what is the right band for you

  • Amateur and semi-pro athletes: sorry, I am the wrong person to learn from. Remember, I was a sloth not that long ago.
  • Getting to basic activity level: if your main goal is to be more active, and avoid sedentary life style, there are cheaper choices of activity bands or tags. I would go with one of those options and set up a reminder after 30 or 60 minutes of inactivity. Pick the brand your family and friends are using to get an extra push from the friendly peer pressure and competition that happen when everyone is on the same platform or application.
  • Getting beyond basic activity level: I will go more into details of the Smart Coach feature in part 2. The bottom line is to pick a band with good automatic activity detection and support for the type of physical activity your enjoy.

I hope those tips help some of you in your own journey off the sofa. Please share you own experience in the comments.

In part 2 I will share my experiences with the UP Platform and UP Smart Coach. Click follow to get it first.

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mstrniste/6854263759