Stepping up

I have been wearing my Jawbone Up for just over a month now, so I figured it was a good point to make an initial review.

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Jawbone
Anyone who has found themselves going from a to b with me over the past 6 weeks will know that walking has become my mode of transport of choice. Come rain or shine, I have started to eschew tubes and taxis in favour of a jaunt to my destination, (something which a group of fellow publishers discovered to their dismay on a freezing, rainy night in Frankfurt, as I took them on a trek across the city, under the slightly optimistic promise that our destination was only 15 minutes away – and by 15 what I really meant was 35).

I had previously thought that I walked a reasonable amount, but now I’m seeing all of the opportunities that I had so readily missed. Suddenly, an awareness of my sedentary moments – the hours at my desk, the time spent in meetings, the long stretch of my commute, spells in cars or on trains during weekends away – is compelling me to move that little bit more. The Jawbone obviously can’t do the exercise for me, and its efficacy relies on me seeing the stats and holding myself to account, but it really has been motivating me to move that bit more. Knowledge is power and it’s also good at guilt-tripping you into getting up and going for a walk.

I now get onto the train to work from one stop further away from home than is necessary. Since I live right opposite the station, I found that if I got on at my pre-Jawbone stop, the walk would only rack up to a paltry 200 steps tops; walking to the next stop, however, I can ratchet up 2,800-3,000 steps by the time I reach my desk. I do the same one my way home too (if I’m not planning to run home), meaning that my commute alone can allow me to hit 6,000 steps door to door. If I don’t run at lunch I’ll take a walk around the park to tip me over 7,000 steps for the first half of the day, and my 30 minute stationary reminders – a little buzz to say ‘get moving’ – see me popping to check the post, do the office coffee run or grab some water from the kitchen at least every hour.

Walking in the mountains
Walking in the mountains
A month in and I’m starting to spot trends: on the days I go on longer runs I usually hit around 22,000-24,000 steps for the day. On short-run and non-running days I range between 13,000 and 19,000 depending on how busy I am at work and how my evening plans pan out. I am pretty consistent during the week, and with my commute, lunchtime stroll and a run I hit my targets.

Weekends, however, vary wildly. On weekends in London I topple 20,000 steps a day, even if I feel I’ve just been mooching around the local area, as I walk everywhere and often go on a couple of runs. Even getting the tube involves a reasonable bit of walking and I never sit down while I’m on the train. Weekends away, however, seem to be less prolific from a step perspective, in part due to the fact that outside of London we tend to drive a lot more – in London you don’t think twice about walking to the corner shop or strolling into town for a coffee, while elsewhere you tend to drive more since the distances are further and public transport links are less convenient. Also, while at home I am my own master and can potter, run or take long walks at will, whereas others seem less keen to jump on the walking bandwagon.

I set my initial target at 10,000 steps, then almost immediately upped it to 12,000. This week I nudged it up to 13,000. The app keeps trying to encourage me to increase my target further, but I’m resisting (for now).

All of this walking has found me reading more about the benefits of getting out for a few extra steps, and the pitfalls of too sedentary an existence. Frighteningly, it seems that gym trips alone are not enough to keep you in shape if the rest of your day is spent sitting still. A recent study found that sedentary desk-based workers who exercised were at just as high risk of various health issues – diabetes and heart disease – as those who didn’t exercise regularly. For the desk worker, what’s much more crucial than intermittent trips to the gym is regular movement. Even just standing, rather than remaining totally stationery, may create enough of a stimulus to counter some of the negative effects induced by extended periods of slouching at your desk. Aim for five minutes of standing for every 30 minutes of sitting; add a couple of stretches during this time and you will be doing yourself, your back and your hip flexors, a big favour. These little movement breaks are not only good for your body, but can also help your mind, boosting productivity and helping to get the creative juices flowing – ever had that eureka moment while stood waiting for the kettle to boil? That’s what we are talking about.

I have also found that walking boosts my mood – getting outside into the fresh air always makes me feel better, in the morning it wakes me up and after work it helps to clear my head. Lunchtime strolls also helps to curb my appetite, as I usually follow my salad with a stroll, by which time the food has had a chance to settle and I’m no longer craving a post-meal sweet treat.

The Jawbone doesn’t just count your steps, you are also able to add your other ‘step-free’ exercises, such as swimming, yoga, and circuit training to your ‘step diary’. The app keeps a tally of how many times you workout a week, reminding you how well you did last week if the currently week is looking slightly more sedentary. At the moment, including runs, I’m averaging 6-9 workouts a week.

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Get walking
The other really useful function is the sleep tracker, which allows you to set a bedtime reminder and, come morning, it lets you know how long you slept for, you light and deep sleep rhythms, how many times you woke in the night and for how long for. I have set my sleep goal at 8 hours, but rarely hit this target. Even if I’m in bed for 8 hours I tend to wake at least once a night for between 20 minutes and and hour. At the moment I’m happy if I make 85% of my goal on this front (but am aiming to improve!).

Finally, the app monitors your overall behaviour and makes movement and exercise recommendations based on what you are doing. It may suggest standardising your bedtime or adding stretching exercises and yoga to compliment your running. There are healthy eating tips and links to articles relating to exercise, diet, sleep and general wellbeing.

I know that I’m already driving R and my colleagues crazy with my step checking and stats obsession, but I’m hoping that as I get into more of a pattern I will become less fixated on the figures. If you are thinking about getting a tracker I would encourage it, even if just to make you more aware of how much you are moving and to find areas where you might improve. Like a food diary, the Jawbone works primarily on the basis that awareness and transparency hold you to account and that by learning about your behaviour you learn how you need to adjust it.

Happy walking.

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