I Am Runner 5

This is something of a gear review.

I’ve had the Zombies Run! app on my phone – both phones, really – since I got my first smartphone back in June 2015. It’s been on my list of augmented reality fitness apps to try out for, well, a while now. Since June 2015, really, but I never got around to it.

Well, I’m on vacation this week. It’s finally time to get around to it.

The app is a semi-interactive audio drama, combined with a GPS tracker that reminds me of MapMyRun (it also has a step counter, if your phone supports that sort of thing, and a ‘constant speed’ setting if it doesn’t but you’ve got a handle on your average walking or running speed).  In the narrative you take on the role of “Runner 5”, the survivor of a downed military helicopter who now works as a scavenger for a community of survivors of the Zompocalypse.

The “semi-interactive” bit comes from collecting supplies as you walk/run, that you can use to build up your base. Also, there’s a chase setting (which I haven’t used yet), which randomly announces that zombies are chasing you. You then have to put on a burst of speed, or lose collected supplies.

I’m enjoying it, especially now that I’ve worked out how to link it with my playlists on my phone. Although that first night I played, walking briskly in the dark with nothing but silence broken by zombie sounds and warnings, was delightfully creepy.

If you like zombies, I recommend it as a way to break up long distance walking or running.

New Phone!

The last of my bad excuses are now irrelevant, because I have a brand new phone!  Well, all right, a refurbished iPhone 5, but it’s new to me!  And wife works, so I no longer have any excuses about tracking my walking or calories.

Also, Pokémon Go works on it. I’m excited about that.

Sadly, backing up my old phone and restoring it on this new one ate all of the data in my Health app. Two years of daily weigh-ins are gone. Along with my blood pressure and blood sugar logs. I’m a bit bummed about that.

But me and MacArthur are back in business!

Smaller Wrists!

I had to get a new FitBit yesterday, because – get this – the little button on the side of my Charge HR just came off.  No, I have no idea how or why.  I just went to push the button to check the time, and it wasn’t there.  (That isn’t a slam on the device, by the way.  I owned it for a year and a half, and wore it pretty much non stop.  I’m kind of impressed that it took this long for something to break.)

At first, my plan was to just deal with it.  The device still worked, other than the fact that I couldn’t hit the button to have it track workouts.  Or stop an alarm.  But then, my wife pointed out that we had an extra FitBit in the house, and why didn’t I just wear that?  My response was that it had been hers, and she had much smaller wrists than I did.  I was wearing a large band, after all.  But I went to put it on anyway.  Mostly, I think, to try and show her that I was right and she was wrong.

Married people reading this, you probably know what happened next.  Because it is a universally acknowledged truth that if you do something to show your spouse that she (or he) is wrong, you will be made to look like a fool.

Yeah, the smaller band fits. I’m buckling it on the very last hole on the band, but that’s not an issue.  Because that’s where I buckled my original large band FitBit.  And the band on the new one is only about half the diameter of the old one.

So, yeah.  I’m pretty stoked by this.  Also, once again, my amazing wife was right.

Pokemon Go Bye-Bye

Sadly, I had to delete the app from my phone today.  Two updates ago, the app just started overloading the tiny brain of my iPhone 4S, causing it to crash as soon as the map screen came up.  I’m a little bummed, because I really enjoyed that silly little augmented reality game.  Even if my phone was never able to handle the demands of, say, a Pokestop battle.


Ah, well.  There’s always Ingress.

Fitness Trackers Don’t Work?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I own a FitBit and that I use it quite a bit.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw headlines like this in my news feed this morning:

New Study Says Fitness Trackers Don’t Help Dieters

Fitness Trackers Don’t Foster Weight Loss, Study Finds

Weight Loss On Your Wrist? Fitness Trackers May Not Help

Needless to say, I was curious.  After all, it seems to work well for me.  So I tracked down the study to see what it had to say.  You can read it yourself – look for Effect of  Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial on the Journal of the American Medical Association website.  From the abstract, here’s how the study worked:

Participants were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and had group counseling sessions. At 6 months, the interventions added telephone counseling sessions, text message prompts, and access to study materials on a website. At 6 months, participants randomized to the standard intervention group initiated self-monitoring of diet and physical activity using a website, and those randomized to the enhanced intervention group were provided with a wearable device and accompanying web interface to monitor diet and physical activity.

The conclusion of the study?

Among young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months. Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.

When looking at something like this, the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s just one study.  The study itself states that

Additional investigation is also needed to examine for whom wearable devices and other technologies may be effective within the context of weight loss efforts and how these technologies influence other components of weight loss, namely, eating behavior and dietary intake.

In other words, the study isn’t saying that fitness trackers are worthless garbage that should be discarded.  It’s saying that more research needs to be done to determine the most effective way to integrate them into a weight loss program.  But here’s something else that’s interesting.  Assuming I’m interpreting the charts right (and I think I am), the “enhanced” group (the group with the trackers) consumed fewer calories than the standard group, once they passed the six month mark and started using the trackers, but also did less exercise.

Here’s where I speculate, based on my own experience.  Fitness trackers can provide an illusion of exercise, simply by tracking your movements.  If you’re having to manually track your exercise, you probably aren’t counting in things like “I walked from my bed to the bathroom” as exercise.  You’re tracking times you actively went out and walked or ran, or the times you spend working out.  The tracker can make you lazy, if you rely on it and don’t have a back-up plan to make sure you exercise.

Again, I’m not a research physician.  But I think this explains the evidence from the study.  Both groups lost weight, after all.  The tracker wasn’t worthless.  But the group that had to manually track things lost more weight.

So, what does this mean for my weight loss efforts?  Well, in a word, nothing.  I’m not in the age range from the study, and the study authors state that “the study sample was restricted to young adults, so results cannot be generalized to other ages”.  More importantly, though, my weight loss program isn’t the same sort of structured group program that the study utilized – it’s more of a hybrid between the two groups described in the study.  I use the FitBit, yes, but I don’t depend on it for all of my data about my exercise and weight loss.  I also make use of self-reported tracking that is manually input into a different system.

Ultimately – and this is my personal experience talking again – I think that further study will indicate that fitness trackers have benefits.  But I think that further study will also show us the optimal way to use them as part of a fitness program.  They’re just a tool, after all.  And no single tool will change your life all by itself.

72 km left to go…

It turns out that this Pokemon Go “buddy system” is just another sneaky way of getting you out to go walking.

After getting things working yesterday, I took MacArthur for a series of walks.  My GPS on my phone has some connectivity issues on the trails around my office, so I only managed to log about 3 kilometers with him out of the five and a half miles I walked yesterday.  As a result, I earned one candy for the little guy – you get one candy per 3 km with the Charmanders, after all.  Then, for laughs, I checked how much candy I’d need to get him evolved.

25 pieces, it turns out.  So, that means I need to walk another 72 kilometers in the best case scenario.  Probably more, because the Pokemon Go app doesn’t log everything I walk with it (thank you, connectivity issues…).  But hey, it gets me out and walking.  And gets my son out as well, because once I showed him MacArthur he wanted to go and try to find more Pokemon for me.  He was so excited that, since we were at a local park with a friend of his, I actually had to order him to go play.

So, yeah.  We’re having a good time.