This is a re-post of an original article published at HealthWire by Dr. Colin Champ
As an engineer (by training) and physician-scientist, I need to quantify things.
With websites like FitDay, I can easily track my food intake, and with devices like glucometers and ketone meters, I can use my blood glucose and ketone levels to assess my physiologic response to food, exercise, and my morning drive with just a prick of the finger. Exercise, however, has eluded me for years, both professionally and personally.
Methods to get patients to exercise more are desperately needed. Methods for physicians and health coaches to track exercise are desperately needed as well. Companies like Misfit continue to make affordable and attractive devices to track our daily calories burned, steps taken, miles walked, and quality of sleep. The resulting data has been difficult to sort through, but companies like Koneksa Health are doing the hard part and delivering the much-needed data analysis.
The benefits are plenty. I have recently teamed up with Koneksa Health and Misfit to create the first of a series of clinical trials assessing activity levels in cancer patients. Both have been beyond supportive with their time and effort.
The goals are twofold: First, we are aiming to correlate activity rates with quality of life for patients undergoing treatment for cancer. Second, we are studying activity levels and methods to increase these activity levels in patients with cancer where outcomes can be improved through increasing activity levels(like breast and prostate cancer).
My Tracking Experience
I consider myself a health-conscious and active person, but my Misfit tracker added a large amount of background exercise to my day. I often make it to the gym, but apparently I make it for my daily walk less often.
Tracking my activities did not get me to the gym more often, and it did not get me to more martial arts or yoga classes. My week is quite busy with these activities regardless of tracking. What it did do was increase my overall background activity — an area where I (and others) am often lacking.
I would generally upload my data around every other day. If I saw any hint of a decrease in miles walked per day, I would typically find myself going for extra walks in the morning and afternoon. I now go for a walk around noon every day for at least a mile.
As you can see below, in the last 85 days, I generally walk between four-and-a-half and five miles per day (the trend line), but I can go anywhere from around three to eight miles. Previously, my mile count would dip below three much more often; now, that is a rarity.
This is also further reflected in the number of steps tracked per day, which generally ranges between 10,000 and 15,000. Interestingly, this tends to drop off on Wednesdays, when I work at a different office where there is not much opportunity to walk throughout the day. My step count is more often affected by my activities throughout the day and not exer,cise sessions after work in the evening.
While the Misfit Shine tracks calories, I see this as a less important metric. In general, I do not count calories, whether that is with food or exercise. I lift weights often and usually join a couple yoga classes per week — two activities that tend to lead tracking devices to underestimate calories, as the movements are minimal and the weighted and held positions will not lead to an appropriate count of calories.
In regards to weight lifting, the current tracking devices think I am simply raising my arm, though the force may be several hundred pounds. Regardless, I generally stick to around 3,000 calories burnt per day via the device, as you can see below.
I am a strong believer in the health benefits of intense exercise, and this is another area where I often have to remind myself to keep up. I like to run sprints at the local track at Carnegie Mellon University, but I often find myself going extended periods of time without getting in my intense 100-meter sprints.
Tracking is a good reminder of where I stand with regard to more intense activities and exercise. I also found that this slightly dropped off both with the weather change and more indoor activities, including yoga, reminding me to find ways to engage in intense activities.
The final element of my tracked health was hours of sleep. This serves as nothing more than a reminder for me to be efficient and get into bed early so I do not have to rush around in the morning to get to work after getting my eight hours of sleep. I was over and under on several days, but as you can see with the trend, I generally get about eight hours per night. Those low points are usually when I'm traveling for work.
The Benefits of Increased Background Activity
I consider walking, taking the stairs, and even my standing desk as methods that increase my background activity. I drive to and from work, but otherwise, I generally attempt to limit my amount of driving during the rest of the day and week. The weekend rarely involves any use of my car.
The Misfit Shine did an excellent job of quantifying my attempts. I started wearing the device at the start of spring and noticed immediately that my miles walked per day dramatically increased and leveled off at around five — not too shabby.
Newer studies are revealing the benefits of both intense exercise and low-intensity exercise, which I refer to as background activity. During intense exercise, blood sugar uptake and the burning of sugar stored in our muscles as glycogen increases significantly, improving our metabolic status, 1 including glucose and insulin-based metabolic dysfunction. Triglycerides are also broken down during intense exercise.
Background activity and low-level exercise, on the other hand, may lead to maximal peripheral fat breakdown. Therefore, both very intense activity and walking large amounts have their own health benefits. Even performing household chores may have an exercise benefit for men with prostate cancer. (2)
I experienced significant improvements in my activity levels from tracking with my Misfit Shine and the data assessed through Koneksa Health. Trackers are a cost-effective and easy way to motivate ourselves to increase our activity levels, and the sky is the limit in regards to clinical research.
While I was originally giving my Misfit Shine a brief trial run, I have not taken it off for six months, nor do I plan on it. The health benefits are obvious, and they have been large.
Are you ready to start tracking and hacking your health?
I hope so. Let me know how it goes.
To Your Health,
Dr. Colin Champ is a practicing radiation oncologist and nutritional expert. He is the author of Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands” You can hear more from him as the host of the incredibly popular Caveman Doctor podcast.
1. Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, et al. Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 1993;265(3):E380-E391. Accessed September 30, 2015.
2. Bonn SE, Sjölander A, Lagerros YT, et al. Physical activity and survival among men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24(1):57-64. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0707.