The Fitness Bug

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I was recently asked to consider how I use my iPhone to help with my fitness and this was something I hadn’t really put too much thought into recently because, for me if I am  honest, I take this for granted.

I have been using many apps for a long time and have reviewed lots of them – all with different degrees of success.  I also have a dedicated running watch from Garmin but to be honest I am now back to running with my trusted iPhone (I started with an iPhone 4S and am now using an iPhone 6).

This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are lots of apps that have great functionality and are free (some of which the functionality extends when you pay a membership or pro fee).  These include RunKeeper, Strava, Garmin Connect, The Running Bug and so on.

I make no secret that I favour iSmoothRun as my go to app because it is so easy to use and multi talented.  It allows me to run or walk, I can set intervals and training sessions, I can use it to run against myself (ghosting) but most importantly to me; it extracts my details to all my current and favourite running sites.  This is a big bonus because at the end of a runs, it saves me from manually updating lots of sites.

All of these apps use the power of the iPhone and all the wonderful technology hidden within its slim frame which is great for dedicated tasks such as running but what about the rest of the time?

healthHow do I know if I am completing my government recommend 10,000 steps a day? How could I use this to control my weight and check my calorie intake etc?

Health is now built into iPhones with the latest round of iOS updates and it automatically takes a lot of data using the accelerometers in the device.  It can track steps and elevation with no further interaction needed.  you can extend this with apps such as those above and others which help you to track your heart rate (such as Withings) or your sleep pattern for example.

This is great and works well (in fact in recent reports the iPhone 6 is more accurate than most stand alone activity trackers currently on the market).

I think the power though comes when you combine an activity tracker and the iPhone.

Yes I can track my sleep and steps with just the phone but what about when my phone is charging?  What about when I pop to the toilet upstairs and leave my phone behind?  What about my paranoia that leaving my phone under my pillow would potentially mean I could roll over in the night and damage it?

This is where the addition of an activity tracker is really useful.

There are lots on the market and all promise to do wonderful things to help track your activity but you have to ask yourself what you want to get out the tracker you are going to use?

*not my actual Orb or hand!
*not my actual Orb or hand!

For this experiment I set up a FitBug Orb which is a small round device that you can wear on your wrist, your belt, your neck or your clothing – in-fact it is so small you can wear it almost anywhere and believe me once you are wearing it you forget you are (although I did forget to take it off my jeans and attach to my shorts before last nights run!).

The FitBug fills the gap when my phone is charging etc and ensures that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, it is being tracked.

It can differentiate between normal activity and aerobic activity, it can advise me how my calorie intake and weight are affected by the activity I am doing and suggest ways to improve.

It also allows me to enter into sleep mode…  They recommend putting the FitBug on your wrist but I attach mine to the top of my trunks and I have not noticed it during the night.

An illustration of last nights sleep record...
An illustration of last nights sleep record…

This allows me to have my normal nights sleep yet records my sleep patterns, telling me how long I was asleep, when I was woken up, how long for and whether my sleep was good or bad for my health.

This may sound like a lot of information to take in but I usually wake at least once a night and if this increases I am paranoid that something is wrong.  Analysing my sleep pattern each morning has allowed me to understand this is not necessary the case, some of the time I am more asleep than I think I am and in fact my sleep is better than expected – this means I am less anxious when I wake and simply get on with enjoying the rest of my nights sleep (until rudely woken by the alarm).

Lot’s of these trackers also feed this information into the Health app on the iPhone which allows you to get a good overall picture of your health and well-being.  Big implications of this are that in some countries you can share or opt to allow your medical professional to see this data.

This is great if you have a long-term health issue.  I am asthmatic and I would be interested to see if something could be built to work out the amount of inhalations I have on my pump vs the activity level I had at any particular time.

Apple also recently announced ResearchKit which pushes this technology even further.  Instead of simply tracking your activity, you can join professional medical studies and help the advancement of medical science simply by carrying around your iPhone.

Of course an iPhone is also a great way to listen to music and you can use this to motivate you in your runs whether you chose to purchase a running album from iTunes or create your own soundtrack on Spotify – all of this is possible (of course always make sure you can hear what’s going on around you to ensure you are running safely).

I also think it is sensible to carry a mobile phone when out running so that you can always contact someone in an emergency.

I started my running journey when I was in my late 30’s.  I was never very sporty and I had little or no interest in “getting fit”.  I have a high metabolism and felt that I would remain that way forever (now I look back at photo’s from that period I notice I was slightly rounder in the face but not fat).

I joined a global activity challenge where a team of colleagues wore a pedometer for several months and recorded their details.  This allowed you to compete against other teams.

For me this was a turning point as it made me realise I was much healthier than I thought and much more active than most of my colleagues.  Some of my colleagues were struggling to reach 2-3,000 steps a day where I would average 12,000!

I decided if I could walk this much and feel fine, why not step it up a gear.

My old iPhone and the original Nike+ Running app was my guide for tracking my activity and I used a really simple coaching app called Get Running.  This app enabled this complete novice to go from walking to running a 30 minute 5K in 8 – 10 weeks – incredible stuff!

Comparing my running route in London to others via Strava
Comparing my running route in London to others via Strava

I don’t think my will power was that great or the enthusiasm was there to continue this but the apps helped me to plot a plan, to keep track of my activity and to stick with it.

Add in the social element, encouragement online through friends and peers and leaderboards and before you know it – you’re hooked!

I am not advocating that everyone should don a pair of running shoes and enter their local 10K.  I am simply stating that we have the power in our pockets to help us all become fitter, happier and healthier.

In three years I have lost several kilos, I have maintained a healthy weight and improved my asthma substantiality.  I have run several 5K and 10K races, taken part in 5K Park Runs for fun (!) and completed the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  (I have also raised several thousand pounds for favourite charities such as the British Heart Foundation, Alzheimer’s Society and the local cancer unit).

I would never have imagined any of this to be possible before I started tracking something as simple as the steps I take day-to-day.  Now, I simply don’t know why I didn’t start sooner!

Anyone at any level can achieve something as simple as going for a 10 minute walk each lunch break or extending walks with your dog – all of which can be made fun and tracked thanks to the technology you have on your iPhone 6.

Why not spend less time on Candy Crush and more time getting some fresh air and challenging yourself to be happier and healthier?

Find out more about Three Mobile and the iPhone 6 here.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Your decision to start running is to me a true inspiration. You have stayed with this, raised money, had fun, faced both good and bad weather and still write very passionately about this. Now to me who is a true Apple junky and use the health apps to see how many floors I walk a day etc. Use Tecknology to the best advantage for our is the true goal. Keep running. And blogging.

    1. Keith says:

      Thanks Ivan. That’s very kind of you to say so. Happy tracking and keep moving!

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