How I Tracked It:
Are you tracking a health indictor or healthy habit? As I recount in Data-Driven Health Trackers: An Actionable List, there are a number of ways to quantify our health and bodies.
Over the last year and for this year’s fitness report, I logged and collected my data through multiple tools:
- Apple Watch: Steps and Sleep: I use Apple Watch to track my steps as well as wear my watch to bed to passively track my sleep using AutoSleep app. It may not be the most advanced wearable or biohacker gadget like an Oura Ring, but the ubiquity of Apple products and the realiable of the Apple Watch in particular have made it one of my favorite tracking tools.
- Strava: Running and Cycling: I also use my watch with GPS to record my running and cycling with Strava.
- Mobility and Stretching with Apple Health Kit Shortcut: I record my stretching and mobility with a shortcut and Apple Health
- Strength Traing with Fitbod: I manage my strength training with the app, Fitbod, that helps me figure out which exercises to target which muscles.
- Heart Variability / Chronic Stress: When it comes to Heart Rate Variability, one of my favorite biomakers and a measure of stress, I use HRV4Training, which not only tells me my morning readiness but also gives me insights into things that negatively affect my HRV like lack of sleep, travel and drinking. For all of 2019 I logged my HRV with the camera app on the phone but for 2020 I recently switched to collecting this on my wrist using Apple Watch’s Breathe app.
I’m staying active!
After a decade of physical inactivity (and the weight to show for it), a few years ago I’ve managed to kickstart a couple of positive health and fitness habits. Personally I relied on self-tracking and data visualization along with goal setting and goal check-in’s to ensure I stuck to my commitments and gauged my progress. Whether or not wearables and tracking work for everyone (or at all as some researchers have claimed) as some have claimed, health data provides a useful feedback loop towards positive lifestyle changes.
I currently stick to a number of simple healthy fitness habits. I set time in my schedule for running and strength training, and most of the time that means I’ve protected some time to run a few times a week and even go to the gym for strength training.
In 2019, I completed a couple half-marathons but no full marathons like I did in 2017 and 2018. One biggest running highlights of the year was finishing my first trail race. In November I completed the Griffith Park Half Marathon Trail Race in Los Angeles. Since I was actually training for a road race, I didn’t get much hill training beforehand, but I finished the race in the top 25% and enjoyed amazing views, nutritious snacks and good community throughout.
What I Learned:
- Sleep: Without the data I would have thought I had slept roughly the same in 2018 and 2019 but the logs beg to differ. In fact, I slept a good deal less in 2019 than I did the year before. Roughly equivalent to 10 minutes less per night or roughly 60 hours less in the year! According sleep researcher Matthew Walker in “Why We Sleep,” chronic sleep loss can be just as bad cognitively and for our health as a single night or two of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep has an health impact too, leading to a higher probability of infection and sick days. But for someone like me who depends on creativity and learning, lack of sleep leads to worsening cognitive performance.
- Running: I did less running compared to 2018 (918km vs. 1559 kms). Sickness and slight injuries made the first half of 2019 a hard year for my running and races. I wonder if lack of sleep, less mobility work, and increased travel and life stress contributed to this? The data seems to indicate that. It’s well-known that less training leads to a lower VO2 Max and worsening performance.
- Strength Training: One big change was adding strength training into my weekly health and fitness routines. I got a gym membership (in China, Taiwan and Los Angeles) and went to the gym and lifted consistently for several months last year. I felt better, stronger and my running was less pained. Some research indicates that strength training makes runners less injury-prone too. Heavy periods of travel, especially in Q4, made it hard to lift.
I’ll admit that I used fitness goals and hobbies in the past as a way to replace or deal with lack of progress in other parts of my life. It’s nice that to have a sense of control. It feels good to see progress in your fitness even if your startup project, relationship or something eles is floundering. But focusing on fitness goals can also be a distraction from your true passion and purpose.
As I wrote in my own marathon story, Don’t Turn Left at 24km: My Story Training and Running the Chengdu Panda Marathon, I highly recommend training and running a marathon, since it teaches displine and is a powerful way to show just how adaptable we are. This is particularly important for entrepreneurs and creatives who struggle with self-doubt, imposter sydrome and failure in the face of so many uncertainities. Marathon running and other epic physical challenges teach you a lot of transferrable life lessons.
That said, personally and at least for the year ahead, I no longer place heath and fitness goals at the top of my priorities. They remain important but just not the cornerstone of my life goals. Instead, health and fitness are just what we do so we can pursue excellence in other areas. In my case that means creating, writing and learning. Good health is essential for peak performance.
So looking ahead, my broad and quantifable goal is to stick to getting about 3-5 hours of formal exercise per week. This exercise number corresponds to what most of the reseachers consider the most beneficial for good health and about longevity. Breaking this down, I’m aiming at 2-3h or 20-30km a week of running and ideally 1 to 2.5h / week of strength training. As I wrote about in Data-Driven Run Training, I use TrainAsOne as my AI training plan coach, since it does a great job of balancing volume and run types towards my training and race goals and avoiding overtraining. When it comes to lifting (a topic I haven’t written much on yet!), I do core lifts (deadlift, squat and bench press) and have used Fitbod app to track my workouts and keep my workout routine fresh.
I still like running races, especially as a way to discipline my training and give me a few peak events per year. They are a lot of fun too! I’ve signed up for the LA Marathon in early March and currently in training mode.
Since I’m now living in Venice, California, cycling and walking are now primary means of transportation. This is a nice way to automatically stay active. Now that I’m settled into a few routines and weekly meetings, it’s cool to see an additional 2-4 hours of week cycling just as I go about my day!
While I eat pretty well and get “adequant” amount of sleep, I still think there is room for improvement on both. Unfortunately poor sleep and travel likely led to a long sickness I had at the start of 2019 as well (and also why this year in data post is so delayed!). Personally, I’d like to get my daily sleep average closer to 8 hours per night and decrease my drinking to just once or twice a week.
I eat a primarily plant-based diet and take a couple supplements, like Creatine and Krill Oil. I fast quarterly. It might be time to research and “biohack” my fasting and supplementation in the months ahead with a eye towards blood biomarker tracking and longevity.
Ethically and ecologically, I’d like to cut my meat consumption down to just once or twice a week and instead eat more beans and legumes for protein. Food tracking is hard but it might be interest to simply track how I eat meat, fish and dairy.
I’m currently doing a major food tracking and glucose study with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), so I suspect I’ll have more nutrition-related insights to incorporate and write about soon. Even without a full data analysis I can tell you that IHOP Strawberry Pancakes led to one of my highest glucose spikes!
Compared to my other tracking areas like time, tasks and writing, health and fitness tracking have yet to get as robust of a personal data analysis. This is partially due to how complicated to do data analysis on our health. Human physiology and biology are complex system. It is difficult track how food, sleep and exercise affect us day to day, let alone to understand these effects over longer expanses of time. I definitely hope to work more on my own data-driven health and see what my health and fitness data says in the year ahead.