Leveraging Analytics for Personal Health

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I spent the last 6 months undergoing some dramatic health changes (ping me for details), primarily diet, and now I’m getting around to refactoring my fitness.  Naturally, I want to try some apps that both collect lots of sensor data but that also present it back to me in a meaningful (and hopefully motivating) way.

While I’m not sure that I’d classify all the sensor data from my iPhone as a “big data” stream, it has some common attributes – in particular, that I want to keep it all and it will grow endlessly and never stop (to quote Actian’s CTO).  So as I’m moving around, walking, running and more, I want to capture that.  Then I want to use whatever tools I want to process, analyse and visualise it.

If you’re already into fitness than you’ve already hear about the myriad of devices waiting on store shelves for you to pick up – from pedometers to bathroom scales – and strap to your persons.  Internet of Things anyone?  It’s not your fridge measuring energy and toaster monitoring temperature – it’s your wrist band monitoring your every footstep and your phone correlating it with your location, time of day and weather.

What a great time to be alive for a data junkie working in analytics and visualisation!

A Few Apps

So let’s talk devices, apps and services…

MapMyFitness app on iPhone 5
MapMyFitness app on iPhone 5

One of the most popular ones I hear about is MapMyFitness.  You can read lots about it elsewhere.  I used it to track some walks and runs, but mainly to share with a friend who does the same (keeping an eye on the competition!).  I’ve used it on and off for a few years to keep track of walks and gym visits.  I only used it on my iPhone and found GPS mapping was really good.  I particularly like the elevation gain stats and the ability to select from past routes.

 

Moves app on iPhone 5.
Moves app on iPhone 5.

I briefly tried another app called Moves and it had a really interesting interface and visualiser.  All computed as automatically as possible, guesstimating where you are at (Home vs Gym) and what you are doing.  It’s neat, I might try it again someday now that I’m actually doing more than just driving around.

I see there are lots of other online services and apps that can read from or populate both these apps.  Do you see how the line between data, application and services continues to blur.  Just as the “open data” revolution has rocked governments we’ll see “open monitoring” apps rock our personal lives.  Or at least thats what I’m experiencing.

When (re)starting my fitness programme I had to decide what to do and what to stick with.  My main goal was to track general movement, but also to get good stats and motivation while walking or running.  Since I’d already used some of these other services, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go with something else.  Plus, getting a gift for a birthday always helps 🙂

Nike+ Fuelband

So I went with the Nike+ Fuelband and have found it very useful.

Nike+ Fuelband activity tracker
Nike+ Fuelband activity tracker

In a nutshell, I’ve found that it:

  • Is unobtrusive
  • Fits comfortable (adjustable too)
  • Uses barely any power
  • Syncs constantly even during a workout
  • Doubles as a watch
  • Comes with some interesting apps – on phone, in browser and feedback on the band itself

I wasn’t familiar with NIKEFUEL – a single unit measurement that sums up all your activity.  It’s handy because you can compare your FUEL numbers with someone else on equal footing.  It roughly converts to calories but is more of a sum-total picture.

Nike+ Fuelband App on iPhone 5
Nike+ Fuelband App on iPhone 5

The Phone App

On the phone I fire up the Fuelband app and it syncs with the band and updates all my stats.  The basic stats screen shows how close I am to my FUEL points for the day, while changing the colour of items to also bring the point home that I’m aiming for “green”.  Other screens show how I’m doing by the week, month and year.

It’s all about goals.  I’ve found it recommended a good starting goal (which is still pushing me beyond what I was doing before this).  And it also recommended adding additional goals when I saw that I was starting to run (i.e. Try running 3x per week).

Nike+ Fuelband app on iPhone 5 - activity stats and motivations
Nike+ Fuelband app on iPhone 5 – activity stats and motivations

They also have various motivations throughout the app – “awards” and comparisons with others in my age bracket during the same time of day.  I’m really impressed with how they’ve leverage crowdsourced stats, while also keeping them anonymised yet useful for me.

I’ll show you how to can access that raw data in another post – but for now, enjoy the screenshots of their apps, knowing you can also build your own!

For most of the first week I only used the phone app and the band directly.  By clicking the single button on the band it displays time and daily stats: fuel, steps, hours won (hours in which you were moderately active for 5 minutes) and calories.  It has a great little coloured indicator that also changes as you reach toward “green”.  This kind of feedback completes the full circle of – monitor, analyse and act – what so much of big data analytics aims to do.. but I digress…

Nike+ Fuelband - goal status indicators
Nike+ Fuelband – goal status indicators

Web Apps

But the device and the mobile app are only part of the package.  By creating a Nike+ account you get access to all your Fuelband app data (and the Nike+ Running App data if you are using it. More on that another time I think.)

nikeplus-dashThe site includes a daily dashboard view, which is excellent – providing a good mix of high level goal achievement with meaningful visuals and links to more summarised weekly or monthly info logs.  This is a very useful free service and could be worth the price of a device in and of itself.

 

nikeplus-weeklyUp Next

Aside from using the Fuelband app, you can also use the Nike+ Running app, along with the Nike+ site, which uses your iPhone to collect everything.  More on that in another post.  I’ll also give an intro to using Nike+ developer API to get access to my data!