Trying: Using Striiv iOS App to Encourage More Walking

2013 08 25 14 15 01I’ve written at some length about using Fitbit to track my activity, and encourage me to do a bit more. It was somewhat effective, and I liked the device a lot. It was only moderately effective at getting me to actually move about more, though.

After an unfortunate accident killed Sam’s Fitbit, I gave her mine to use, which left me with no tracking. I remembered seeing an iPhone app called Striiv for tracking, which had seemed like a bad idea at the time. Now I had no alternative, I thought it might be worth trying. When I say it seemed like a bad idea, I mean that I didn’t expect it to actually count steps with any accuracy at all, and I expected it to run the battery down far too quickly to be usable.

Well, after a couple of weeks or so at trying it out, I can say I was partially wrong on both counts:

  • It works far more reliably than I expected. I think the step counting is a bit less reliable than Fitbit, but it’s very close. I usually find it’s around 10% or so out, sometimes 20% or so. Considering that’s just using the accelerometer in the iPhone, though, I think it’s pretty good. I don’t need accuracy, I just need a good idea of how I’m doing relative to other days.
  • It does drain the battery, but not enough to be too much of a problem for me. I still get a full day of use most of the time, but it’s a bit more of a problem if we’re out and about for the day. Veho Pebble (Search for "Veho Pebble" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US) portable chargers look like a good way around the problem, so I may well get one, but it would still be a bit less convenient than the Fitbit was.

What it does do that the Fitbit didn’t really do very well for me is encouraging more activity. It pushes me gently during the day to do more. It keeps setting goals for me, with a little graph showing how close I am to walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, or how much more I need to do to burn off a can of soda. It also offers little challenges. If I walk, say, 50 steps in a minute, I get a reward of some extra energy points. If I do 10 more minutes of activity in the next 20 minutes, I can have 7,500 energy points, but it will cost me 750 points to take the challenge.

But why would I want energy points? Well, that’s all part of the ‘MyLand’ game. You have a little world, and you can add plants and buildings to your world, to try to attract creatures back to the land. The game isn’t great, and it’s fairly similar to many other ‘world-building’ games out there, but it still works on me. There are gold coins, which you use to buy a building. But that just gives you a pile of stone and parts. You then need to use energy points to actually put the building together. You can spend gold to upgrade your building, but again, you need to use energy points to make the upgrade actually happen. Walking around is the only way to get your energy points, and it’s much more efficient to get them by doing challenges too. Well, you can get more by inviting friends and weighing yourself, but you can’t buy your way around doing stuff.

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The result is that I walk more than I otherwise would, in order to build a rather crappy little virtual hut, in a game that I probably wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s helping to motivate me to do more. It turns out I’m surprisingly easily tricked into being a bit more active.

It’s a free app, so if it sounds interesting, give it a try. You can add me as a friend too – I’m on there as michael@pigpog.com – you’ll get some extra points for inviting me, and there are extra bonuses to be had for activities your friends do. You can even take part in a Walkathon, to donate a day of clean water to a child in South America.

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Pre-Op Ramblings – Part Five

To sort-of quote the late Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock…

“Stone me! It’s like waiting for a bus. You hang around for ages then two operations come at once!”

Last Wednesday I found out that I have been approved for funding for weight loss surgery. I spent a couple of days in a confused but blissful fog. It hasn’t yet sunk in and I doubt it will until I’m being wheeled into theatre at Taunton. I have to attend an ‘information session’ and have a medical, and then I go on the waiting list. It should all be done and dusted within the next few months.

Just as I’m trying to absorb that news; a phone call comes in from the hospital regarding another niggling little health problem I have, something which has kept me from working for the last 18 months or so. You see, every fortnight or so, it all gets a bit “Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days” around here.

Which is a bit frustrating to say the least and not at all nice to deal with in the workplace.

Last year I went in to hospital to have these frequent and massive bleeds investigated, but unfortunately I was then too big for them to complete the procedure. Now I’ve lost more weight I’m going back in for another go, and this time they’re going to do it under general anaesthetic.

So yes. It’s like waiting for a bus.

What don’t kill ya will make ya more strong!

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the facilities offered by my local leisure centre. I decided to give some classes a try after becoming a little bit bored of the treadmill, so last week I gave Meditation, Yoga and Boxfit a try. Meditation was a great help in calming my chattering mind. Yoga taught me some soothing poses and challenging stretches. Boxfit gave me a chance to hit things. I loved them all and will be back for more as soon as I can. This week, I’m going to try a Pilates class followed by a Dance class. Yes, two classes together… whatever doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger, right? Right? James Hetfield says so!

Pre-Op Ramblings – Part Two

Over the next three months, while the Powers That Be decide whether or not my op is worth funding, I have regular appointments with a dietitian and a physiotherapist.

Last Tuesday I saw the Dietitian. She asked me questions about the food I eat, how often I splurge on takeaways and what I have if I do (still too much, too often… working on it). She seemed generally pleased with my progress and simply advised to keep on doing what I’m doing; logging calories in myfitnesspal, and keeping an eye on things with the Fitbit. She also put my mind at rest on the sticky issue of the funding decision. She said if I didn’t get funding it would be because the operation is not considered safe for me at this moment in time. However, it would appear things are looking positive and I should keep on keeping on until the next stage of the process is reached.

On Thursday I had my first appointment with the service’s new Physiotherapist. I had no idea what to expect having been through nothing of the sort in the past. Another new appointment, another assessment. This time a lot of questions which really brought home just how ruddy lazy I’ve been. The questions, and tests of my walking pace, ability to run (hilariously poor) etc were to establish a baseline, a point from which we can measure progress.

She then set me a daily exercise routine. Ten minutes, three times a day, when I would normally be sitting on my arse staring at my iMac. Since the appointment I’ve done these exercises twice.

I have to admit, exercise has always been a problem for me. And ten minutes of stepping and what-have-you seems like ten hours. The prospect of doing this three times a day does not fill me with joy. I know that if I’m to do this, I need help.

And, unfortunately for my metal-loving husband, that help is in the form of dance hits from the 90s:

And some unadulterated cheese from the 70s:

In my next instalment of pre-operative blether, I’ll share the first few days from my activity diary. Will embracing my inner English Disco Lover make any difference? I think it might. Blame it on the boogie.

2012 – In Association With The Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital

2012 will be remembered as the year I began my repairs… fixing the damage of poor choices of the past, healing a broken mind and trying to deal with the damage that’s been done along the way. I’ve seen more hospital rooms this year than I have in my entire life, and as we go into 2013 there’s more to come (next appointment on Wednesday).

From December 2011 to January 2013 and beyond...

From December 2011 to January 2013 and beyond…

Happy New Year to all the staff of the RD&E.

Fitbit Ultra

The Fitbit (Search for "Fitbit" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US) has been around a while, but has only recently started to seem like an interesting idea to Sam and I. We both need to lose some weight (ok, maybe a lot), and to get a bit more active (ok, maybe a lot more). A couple of years ago we used to be able to go for a walk and go pretty much anywhere in town, and now the hill we live on means we could probably walk anywhere, but we couldn’t get home again without the aid of a winch.

Sam has been using MyFitnessPal to help with the food side of things, and it has been going well for her. I decided to join her in using it, and we decided to both get Fitbits too.

What Is It?

It’s essentially a very clever pedometer – those things you can clip to your belt that have a vague guess at how many steps you take each day. It contains a 3-dimensional accelerometer to monitor movement, and an altimeter so it knows if you’re heading upstairs. There’s also a wireless connection to its base station that you leave plugged in to your computer, so when you get home, it can upload its data automatically.

Wearing it is easy, thanks to the design – the whole thing is the shape of a slim clip, so it just pushes onto your waistband or belt. For thicker belts, a little holder is supplied, that can open a bit wider – and isn’t as expensive if it snaps. I’ve been keeping mine clipped to the neckline of my t-shirt, which seems to work well. They say it can also work reasonably well in your pocket, if you don’t want it on display, or don’t trust it to stay put.

Controls and Display

It has just one button and a small blue glowing LED display. Pressing the button cycles through the display information. Pressing and holding starts and stops a stopwatch, which tells the Fitbit you’re doing some sort of activity.

The display can have various features turned on or off. I’ve turned most of mine off, and I’m left with:

  • The Flower

The Flower at its shortest. I wasn’t moving much.

The flower grows if you’re active, and shrinks if you’re not. It has just one leaf above, because I wasn’t moving much. Leap around enough, and I’m told it can grow up to eleven leaves. I may never see this happen. It’s all relative, though, and as you get fitter, and are more active normally, your flower becomes harder to grow.

  • Step Counter

I took a few steps today.

The step counter just counts how many steps you’ve taken, just like a standard old pedometer, though it should be a bit more accurate.

  • Stairs Counter

Twelve flights of stairs today – quite a climb.

This sort of counts how many flights of stairs you’ve counted. Hills count too, though, so it’s really counting how many multiples of ten feet you’ve ascended by. This seems less accurate in my testing, but better than a ‘normal’ pedometer – going up stairs is hard, so you deserve credit for it.

How Well Does It Work?

Seems to work pretty well in my (so far limited) testing. The step count seems reasonably accurate, which is more than can be said for most pedometers. It certainly seems to know when I’m going up stairs or up a hill, so I feel like I’m getting ‘extra credit’ for the extra work I’m doing. Beyond walking, running and going up and down stairs, it can probably only really guess at how much energy you’re burning when exercising, but that’s fine for me – I don’t go beyond walking and going up and down stairs.

Speaking of stairs, I have found if I’ve done a fair bit of walking, even if it’s completely level, it sometimes registers stairs that I haven’t climbed. The altimeter is presumably based on air pressure, so if the pressure drops while I’m walking, it probably thinks I’m going up hill, or up stairs. It means you sometimes get credited with more stairs that you’ve really done.

In terms of motivating me to do more, I really haven’t tested yet. I decided when I got it that the first thing I would do was to establish a sort of baseline. I’d just do what I’d normally do, and let it measure my current levels of activity, then slowly try to increase that.

No, I really did plan to do that.

I failed. As soon as it was there measuring my activity, I started trying to increase it. On one day, we weren’t going out. I put my boots on and took two trips down to the bins, for the sake of increasing my ‘stairs’ count to meet my goal. I guess that means it worked quite well at getting me to be more active. It probably also means I’m gullible and easily tricked, and will go to a surprising amount of effort in pursuit of a tiny pixel leaf.

Sleeping

Well, that’s all good, but does it just sit there by the bed when you’re sleeping, doing nothing? No. No, it does not. You attach it to your wrist with the supplied wrist band, and it monitors your movements to work out when you’re sleeping. Each morning you get a graph showing you how good (or otherwise) your sleep was.

It’s confirmed for me that I sleep quite well, with nice long uninterrupted stretches. Sam has sleep apnea, and you can read about how she’s used her Fitbit to monitor the difference the CPAP machine makes.

The Future

I’ve no idea how much I’ll stick with it in future, and if it will continue to motivate me, but early signs are good. Using it takes so little effort that even limited benefits would be worth it, so I can’t see why I’d give up.