Friday, January 25, 2013

The quantified life

I didn't think I was going to make any New Year's resolutions this year. Nevertheless, in my state of intense introspection, in my dissatisfaction with Business As Usual, in my desire to seize opportunities for intentional living, I ended up making many changes that roughly coincided with the start of 2013.

Exercise may be the most popular topic for resolutions, in our relatively sedentary land. I've been getting regular exercise for the past several years, but have been less and less enthusiastic about it. After injuring my knee last summer, I spent a few months away from jogging, and found myself equally dissatisfied with less high-impact ways of getting cardio, and filled with dread at the prospect of returning to running, which I find most satisfying at the moment it is over (and not a second before). Running's only attraction to me is that it enables me to get the most exercise in the least amount of time ... and I neither possessed nor wanted to devote any more time to the tedious process of staying fit.

At the same time, I was unhappy with the habit I had developed of driving Cady Gray to school 3/4 of a mile from our house, then driving to work, about a half mile from the house. It seemed quite the waste of mileage, gas, and stress about parking, when the distances were so eminently walkable. And so I decided that I would combine these two dissatisfactions and start walking to school with Cady Gray and walking to work whenever I could.

The plan worked admirably, putting me at work 15 or 20 minutes later than I used to arrive, but without an early morning class promptness was not of particular concern. And when I arrived, I had already walked more than two miles -- all before the day had even begun. The sense of accomplished engendered in me a desire to know just how much I was getting done. Am I managing to engage in enough activity during the rest of my day to make that 2.15 mile walk a significant part of my health maintenance regimen?

I needed more information. So I joined the ranks of the Quantified Selves by getting a FitBit One, a little device that hangs off my belt loop or clips to my waistband and records the steps I take, the mileage I cover, and the elevation I climb. I've learned that I manage to cover about 8 miles a day -- over 15,000 steps -- when I start off right by staying out of my car. And the desire to push that total as high as I can motivates me to walk across campus for lunch instead of grabbing what's closest. I've long climbed stairs whenever I could, regarding elevators as a unnecessary luxury, but now I welcome errands that take me out of the building because they mean getting two or three more flights climbed on my record.

While setting up this system, getting the devices registered and talking to each other, becoming excited about knowing more intimately how sedentary or active I am in a given day, I experienced a new dissatisfaction. I worked at the computer for hours at a time, sitting all the while. And at the edges of my perception lately, growing more visible and insistent, there is the research showing that too much sitting is bad for you, no matter how much exercise you get when you're up and about.  Noel has been using a standing desk for several months now, alternating between its front-room location for the writing he does while listening to music, and the living room where he sits for his writing while watching film or TV.  The more I became immersed in the ecosystem of personal tracking, the more it rankled that I was spending so much of my day perched on a chair.

I measured the height of my elbows atop my desk surface while standing, and found a nearly yard-wide ClosetMaid shoe shelf at Target that would raise my ergonomic keyboard to that level and have plenty of room for my trackball on the side.  A similar (narrower) shelf elevates my monitor, but not enough -- I really need to raise it another few inches to make it perfect.

My standing workstation, courtesy of Target.

Changes seem to beget more changes. When I alter my life in one place, I uncover nagging dissatisfactions with the way I've long arranged other things. I'm adapting to more walking, more standing, and devoting gym time to weights instead of cardio (while knowing I needed to do strength training, I've neglected it entirely for years because I was loath to spend any more time working out than I already did). The changes are dramatic, but don't require finding additional time in my day. I'm doing the same things I always have done -- getting my child to school and myself to work, tapping away at the computer, going to the gym three times a week -- but doing them differently, and carefully examining the data that emerges.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I've been working on strength too, given all the research about how it helps maintain bone density, etc, etc. Also: I figured it was the way to up my running training.

You have also inspired me to move my shelf (similar to the one you have) down to my desk so that I can have a standing desk. I like standing--sitting too long makes my butt get all numb and my legs feel weird!