Lessons from my 2014 health practice report
Last Friday night, a newer tradition continued. Over the last several years, at this time, a group of my friends get together to share a meal and discuss ambitions, intentions, and resolutions for the coming year. Since this same group meets year after year, each of us gets the chance to talk about how we did towards last year’s goals to a group familiar with what your goals were. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn? Here, I write about my performance towards my health-related resolutions from 2014. All the graphs below show my actual data from the last 12 months. Note, a 12-month view is not standard for the Dan’s Plan graphs, but as you can see in the upper left of the physical activity graph below, you can change the time frame, and now is the perfect time to check out the 1y view.
Physical Activity – Steps & Exercise
Among the things I check most frequently on Dan’s Plan are the components of my Activity Score – 1) daily step average, and 2) weekly exercise level. Above, the solid bars represent my average daily steps by month. A green bar means my daily average was at or above my goal, and for me, my goal is set to 10K steps per day. If the daily average for that month was below my goal, the bar would be dark grey. In 2013, I achieved my daily step goal eight out of the twelve months. It was a part of my 2014 resolutions to do better and I feel great that I did. In fact, I averaged 11,934 steps per day for the year, which you can see in the upper left hand corner of the graph. It means that I maintained a very good level of daily, low-intensity physical activity throughout the entire year, and this is something I place great value upon in my overall health practice.
Ten-thousand steps per day is a validated target to promote health and well-being. I generally avoid the more-is-better mentality that deeply permeates the current culture of physical activity in the US, but, as you can see, I absolutely crushed my October goal. Why? I started to use a make-shift treadmill desk while working, and I must say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Moving homes, however, has put this habit on hold. I fully intend to restart the habit as soon as I can. While working on a treadmill is not practical for many, the (possibly) transferable lesson I took away from this experience is that I actually feel more energized when I walk more than 10,000 steps per day. Of course, working on the treadmill made it easy, and it’s hard to say if the increased boost of mental and physical energy came from walking more, sitting less, or a combo of both, but whatever the cause, I took notice that walking extra steps felt really good.
To track steps, I used a Fitbit step counter with Moves app on my iphone as a backup. Over the course of the year, I changed my device four times. I started off the year using a Fitbit One, then switched to a Fitbit Force when it came out. I love the Force! This is the device that was recalled because it gave a small portion of users a rash. By the way, Fitbit recently released an updated version of the Force, called the Fitbit Charge, that has a new band. Towards the end of the year, I was given early access to the Fitbit Surge. I didn’t like it as much as the Force, so I returned it and switched back. It’s a common temptation for one’s curiosity to test the hot new feature of a piece of technology to motivate us to abandon a device that works fine, and adopt what’s new. In some cases, not only is there a lack of enhanced user experience, there is a decrease in the overall user experience. That’s what happened to me as I went from the Force to the Surge. I’ll save the details for another post, but I will tell you that ‘more features’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better experience’ – buyer beware. Currently, the Fitbit Charge is my top recommendation to those looking for a step and sleep tracking device.
The Dan’s Plan Exercise Tracker displays a seven-day total level of exercise and gives you a percentage score. That score is relative to the Department of Health and Human Services weekly exercise recommendations. If you maintain a score of 100% or greater, then you’re approximating their recommendations. This score is very compelling to me and I look at it every day with great interest.
In the graph above, this measurement is represented by the bars with dotted-line borders. If the bar is green, it means that I averaged a weekly Exercise Score above 100% for the month. If the bar is light grey, it means my exercise level was under my goal (90% or less). Ten out of the twelve months of 2014, I was in my target range for weekly exercise. I’m happy with this, and it is a resolution of mine to do as well or better in this domain in 2015.
I believe this year represented the best year of sleep of my life, resulting in noticeable improvements in daytime performance. Despite the fact that I have been educating on the importance of sleep for years, this year, I took my own sleep practice to another level. Every month of 2014, I averaged a score of 90% or greater for the two parameters that comprise our Sleep Score – 1) bedtime, and 2) in-bed duration. Please listen to my podcast with Danny Lennon to hear more detail on the importance of these two sleep-quality parameters, and why we track these, but not other sleep measurements.
Having a child has helped me sleep better
What’s that you say, Dan?! Yes, having a baby has improved my overall sleep practice. Because of my son, we wind our evening down earlier than normal in order to get him to bed at a good time for him. Since we must initiate these activities earlier than what we would do for ourselves, it has gotten us into the habit of thinking of sleep earlier than normal. Specifically, I get into bed earlier than I used to. Now, I will read my kindle, with dim backlight, in a room with amber-toned environmental light, and as soon as the urge for sleep strikes, all I have to do is put down the book. Most people, on the other hand, initiate their going-to-bed ‘program’ once they start to feel sleepy. So, instead of being able to actually allow sleep to happen at this instance, you need to do a list of things – like brush your teeth, move yourself into bed, etc – before you’re able to close your eyes. Because your sleepy, you’re likely to move slowly to accomplish this list, and it’s easy to see how maintaining this latter pattern cuts into total sleep time; even 20 minutes of less sleep per night on a regular basis matters! You don’t have to have a young child to benefit from this lesson: get into bed prior to when you want to be sleeping so you can give into the impulse as soon as it hits.
If you’ve read our free ebook on the Ideal Weight Program, you know that I was an obese kid. After shedding body fat in my teenage years, I was still overweight and it was still very easy for me to gain weight. And I did. Several times between my teenage years and now, I gained 20-30 pounds above what I considered a better weight for myself. Inevitably, I would work hard to lose it, sustain it for a while, and then the weight would creep back on. In 2007, I did a major restructuring of my lifestyle and diet, lost 35 lbs (my largest loss ever) and have maintained my new weight, almost ‘effortlessly,’ ever since. I put the word effortless in quotations because it wasn’t effortless. I adopted a new lifestyle pattern that made weight maintenance not a struggle, which it has always been in my past. I maintain no illusions as to why I have been successful – an effective daily pattern of living is the cause of my sustained results.
Being a Dan’s Plan member, you will recognize that in the weight graph above (the weight maintenance graph, different from our weight loss graph) the green zone represents the range for where I want to keep my weight; it’s a plus and minus 5 lbs margin around my target weight, which for me, is set at 184 lbs. The yellow zones represent between 5-10 lbs deviations above or below my target weight, and the orange zones represent weight deviations 10 lbs or greater above or below my target weight. I don’t get alarmed when my weight creeps into a yellow zone. I do, however, become more alert to my daily pattern. The feedback sharpens my focus and helps me re-exert control over the factors that lead to successful maintenance. I’m grateful for this feedback, and I believe it’s played an important role in my story of success.
For weight tracking, I use a Fitbit Aria scale (Fitbit, graciously, gave me one after one of the times I spoke at their company). When I step on it in the morning, the scale wirelessly transmits my weight to my weight graph on Dan’s Plan. You can see that while my weight fluctuated day by day, I spend the year stabilized within my target green zone – that’s my goal. The explanation for this weight stability can be found by reading the above sections on physical activity and sleep (and because my eating practice conforms to the Lean Maintenance Diet of our Ideal Weight Program).
While I will always remain in a state of learning – learning about why and how I should do or not do something related to health, and even learning about myself and my relationship to health – I also feel that I have achieved a higher degree of mastery over the foundational aspects that lead to a favorable daily pattern of living, which I firmly believe lead to high performance and proper biological functioning, now and later.
How was your year? What did you learn? What did you struggle with? What did you do well? What do you look to improve this year? Please feel welcome to leave comments below, and I applaud you for your own efforts to pursue health-related goals in 2015!