“To measure is to know” and “If you can’t measure it, you can not improve it”
Wise words, indeed, from Lord Kelvin, the early 19th century mathematical physicist .
As someone who changed his life by tracking data (read my debut BJSM Blog ) this is the sort of confirmation bias that I cling to when I read articles, like this one , which cites research that implies that the more we track an activity, the less we will enjoy it.
With Lord Kelvin’s quotes fuelling my stance, I was ready to quickly dismiss the idea that tracking physical activity could be anything but a great idea.
And then, I remembered one of Lord Kelvin’s less celebrated quotes :
“ X– rays will prove to be a hoax”.
Whoa, if he could be so wrong about x – rays (they also changed my life ), what else did he get wrong ?
So, I read the story further and I considered if my tracking of steps, pace, distance, calories and even heart rate had become an addiction and even a chore?
I actively participate in two schemes that reward activity (I earn points and rewards, such as free cinema) and although I am generally quite active, the lure of points and prizes can consume me.
At the end of an evening, I can be seen (and heard by my girlfriend) pacing around the house; trying to achieve a goal before the clock strikes midnight and my activity trackers reset.
For me, the biggest issue that I have with wearing a tracker is on rest days, or on days like today, when I am sitting by a pool, in Mumbai.
Rather than fully enjoying a relaxing day, I am ruing the missed opportunity to accrue steps and points. It’s at this point that we have to question how my tracker controls, rather than charts my activities.
That’s not to say that I think tracking is a bad thing, but that I think that we shouldn’t lose track of the joy of doing the things that earn us the steps, calories burned or personal bests. And why we are doing them.
For a performance athlete, tracking times and personal bests provides invaluable and quantifiable data, that they can use to compare themselves against their peers and against their own goals. It could be argued that the data tracked and the performance achieved motivates as much as the activity they are doing.
But that is performance athletes. How can tracking benefit the average person? Even the term “average person “ signifies some form of baseline measuring.
Take walking. Scotland has a Get Scotland Walking Campaign to encourage the nation to rise from their seats and to take steps to take more steps.
On average (there’s that word again ), people sit for too long and move too infrequently.
How do we get Scotland walking more and sitting less? In my opinion, the best first thing we can do is equip them with the simplest of activity trackers.
A pedometer on its own will not facilitate behaviour change, but when combined with a walking challenge and a group dynamic, it can move mountains. Or at least get people moving up them. Even if that is only via motivational Munro bagging posters .
Wearing a pedometer helps people to see how little or much they walk and by tying it into a challenge, people are encouraged to gradually increase their steps.
Over the past five years, I have recruited over 1,000 participants in annual step count challenges and the statistics and feedback show that the majority take more steps and that the majority also have fun doing so.
The challenge of adding steps doesn’t make an activity any less enjoyable. Instead, it introduces people to walking more.
They start by walking to their workplaces (or some of the way) and then progress to walking at lunch.
Not only does this active travelling improve their health, it shows them how simple and enjoyable walking is.
Soon, they are exploring their local parks and hiking in the hills. And they are not doing it on their own. They are doing it in groups and introducing their families to the benefits of walking. Many participants make sustainable changes to their lifestyles and make walking a bigger part of their lives.
All from wearing a pedometer.
Let’s Get Scotland Walking!