I'm Moving Less!

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 3 min read

I've been wearing a FitBit Force since November 2013 and have not missed a day, which I'm pretty impressed with. One of the reasons I got the FitBit in the first place was to figure out when I was not moving a lot and get my ass in gear and move around those days. FitBit does a nice job of showing me my data on a daily basis and they send out a helpful weekly recap on Sundays, but I haven't been able to do much with this data yet. The extent of my interaction has been to see a green number which means I made my goal or a red number which meant I missed my goal. Recently I decided that I wanted to have more control of my data. FitBit was not making it particularly easy for me to access my raw data (you need to sign up for their $5/month premium plan to export), so I decided to take things into my own hands.

If you don't know about IFTTT (If This Then That), then your world is about to explode, because it's an amazing service.

I've been using the below action for the past 2 months, and it has created a beautiful, dense spreadsheet with all of my activity data in a form that I can actually use.

IFTTT Recipe: Save daily results to Google Drive spreadsheet connects fitbit to google-drive

Now that I have 2 months of data, I went over to the website Plotly, fed it my data, and it spit out this graph.

That trend line is a little discouraging. Apparently I have been less and less active as the summer has gone on! I find this disturbing for a couple reasons:

  1. This is the summer, I should be getting more active as it goes on, not less.
  2. FitBit gave me no indication at all that this was happening. Based on the information they were giving me, I had mostly good days and a couple bad ones, but it didn't have any insight beyond that.

The fact that I had to use a workaround workflow like this to get a big-picture analysis like this is not a ringing endorsement for the state of fitness trackers. Obviously this is a small sample size. I don't know exactly how Jawbone or Shine or Nike handle their data, but I think the case is pretty much the same for them.

This little experience has really opened my eyes to how far we have to go with this whole "quantified self" thing. We currently have the tools to track so many parts of our lives, but we still lack the tools to take anything useful away from this information. I'm by no means a data analyst, but if I was able to draw this conclusion in just a few minutes, then the big boys have a lot of progress to make. The ideal solution cannot be exporting from FitBit to Google Drive to Plotly.

For sake of example, this is the basic outline of an actually helpful email that I would love to see from someone like Fitbit.

Good morning!

Matt, we've noticed that over the past 2 months your average daily activity has dropped. You used to average 12,573 steps per day and that has dropped to 11,960 in recent weeks (click this link to see detailed stats). We know things change all the time and there could be a million reasons why this change has occurred, but we would like to do something for you and would ask that you do something for us in return.

First, here are some activities that we recommend to get your activity up a bit:

  • Go for a walk everyday
  • Jog around the neighborhood 3 times a week
  • Invest in a treadmill so you can keep walking in the coming winter

And second, we would ask you if you could fill out this 3 question form to help us understand what life events may have lead to a drop in activity. Rest assured that your data is kept private and will only be used as an anonymous data point so we can better help users like you improve.

Thank you and keep on moving!
Totally Awesome Fitness Team