Steps taken, on a lark

step-counterAs someone whose day job involves sitting at a computer for eight hours a day, it is extremely easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, it takes no effort at all.

But that’s not me. I’ve always been pretty active, playing tennis and golf, hiking, biking, doing yard work, and so on.

For the last couple of months, however, I’ve been rehabilitating a sprained ankle, so have had a built-in excuse to limit more vigorous activity.

Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to remain somewhat active, taking walks when the New England weather allows, and also using the elliptical machine in my family room downstairs.

The problem, though, is that I know it’s not enough. Compounding the issue is that I really have not had much insight into how much exercise I actually had been getting.

Until now, that is. Two applications I recently installed on my iPhone 6 have really made a difference.

Stepz — knowledge is power

Stepz, an app from Michael Szumielewski, a developer from Munich, Germany, is simple enough. It uses the M8 motion co-processor in the iPhone to detect and record every step I take during a given day. It provides a well-designed dashboard that can display this data in a multitude of ways.

For example, it can display a graph of activity over a seven-day period, and you can swipe the display to go back even further for historical data.Stepz-graph-300w

Why is the number of steps you take during the day relevant? First, it’s important to understand that activity—any activity—is valuable from an exercise and wellness perspective.

Second, the World Health Organization (WHO), US Center for Disease Control, US Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation, and the US Department of Health & Human Services all recommend individuals take at least 10,000 steps a day to improve their health and reduce the risk of disease.

So knowing how your activity matches up against the ideal standard provides a goal. I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve the 10,000-daily-step goal, given my hectic and busy schedule.

But, really, that’s not the point. The point is to be aware on a day-to-day basis what your own activity level is. Only then can you try to improve, but with clear, measurable goals in mind.

Let me give you an example. When I first installed and launched Stepz, the app was able to extract the motion data from my iPhone going back to when I first purchased the phone in October 2014. I was able to see a daily graph of my activity over that entire period, and it was eye-opening, to say the least.

In October, my average was a meager 1700 steps per day.Stepz-graph-2-300w My sedentary job was my built-in excuse for being a couch potato during the work week, and I could always use fatigue from the day’s work as the excuse for not being more active during the evenings.

However, now that I could see my activity patterns in concrete terms, I became motivated to improve them, and improve them I have.

And you know what? It wasn’t that hard. I began looking for small opportunities during the day to get up and move. Get on the elliptical machine for five or 10 minutes. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Stack some wood for the fireplace. Haul in some 40-pound bags of pellets for the pellet stove.

Anything to get moving, and it has worked. My daily average since New Years Day (11 days ago) has been over 4000 steps and in four of those days, I’ve exceeded 6000 steps.

So, good progress. I feel better. I’m getting outside more. And, as I said, it really hasn’t been that difficult. Knowledge is power, and Stepz has provided that knowledge in an easy-to-digest manner.

Lark—everyone can use a little help

The second app that I’ve been using is Lark, from Lark Technologies. The name Lark doesn’t necessarily convey anything associated with health and fitness, but it does successfully represent the sort of breezy, low-pressure approach the app takes with its users. Lark is a sort of motivational coach built inside an app.lark2

When I first opened the app, it asked me to choose what my goal was, and gave me three selections:

  • Getting fitter
  • Staying healthy and happy
  • Weight loss

I chose “Getting fitter.” Presumably, the app slightly adjusts its analysis and tone based on the goal you select.

Tapping through the app, Lark began to analyze my motion data and report on my activity and sleep averages. Since I had already been using Stepz for a week or so, I was aware of my activity, but the sleep analysis was somewhat of a nice surprise.lark3

I could choose to accept Lark’s estimate of my sleep (“Looks right”), or edit it for accuracy.

Each day that I opened Lark on my iPhone, the app began conversing with me, commenting on activity data from the previous day, asking me about goals, and providing some suggestions for how I could ease some changes into my schedule that would result in more activity.

Lark also asked if I wanted to share my goals on FaceBook or Twitter (entirely optional), and pointed to some tweets from other Lark users. What I discovered was that there are a whole bunch of people out there struggling like me to improve their fitness, and looking for tools to help them along.

Like Stepz, Lark is one of those tools, and the friendly, conversational coaching style it brings to the equation adds to the experience.lark4

Every day, Lark brings a little something new to the conversation. It’s refreshing, and strangely makes me want to try just a little harder to gain its praise.

Weird, I know. But it seems to be working.

One last note: For these apps to be accurate, you have to get in the habit of carrying your iPhone with you from the moment you get up in the morning to just before you lie down in bed at night.

Not a large price to pay, and something I generally do anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *