I was always of the opinion that the health trackers on the market were little more than gimmicks. Most of them were glorified pedometers worn by people who wanted to look like they were fitness conscious people rather than actually using them to stay fit. The introduction of heart rate tracking however presented functionality that wasn’t available before and piqued my interest. However the lack of continuous passive heart rate monitoring meant that they weren’t particularly useful in that regard so I held off until that was available. The Jawbone Up3 was the first to offer that functionality and, whilst it’s still limited to non-active periods, was enough for me to purchase my first fitness tracker. After using it for a month or so I thought I’d report my findings on it as most of the reviews out there focus on it at launch, rather than how it is now.
The device itself is small, lightweight and relatively easy to forget that it’s strapped to your wrist once you get it on. The band adjustment system is a little awkward, requiring you to take it off to adjust it and then put it back on, but once you get it to the right size it’s not much of an issue. The charging mechanism could be done better as it requires you to line up all the contacts perfectly or the band will simply not charge. It’d be far better to have an inductive charging system for it however given the device’s size and weight I’d hazard a guess that that was likely not an option. For the fashion conscious the Up3 seems to go unnoticed by most with only a few people I knew noticing it over the time I’ve had it. Overall as a piece of tech I like it however looks aren’t everything when it comes to fitness trackers.
The spec sheet for the Up3 has a laundry list of sensors in it however you really only get to see the data collected from two of them: the pedometer and the heart rate monitor. Whilst I understand that having all that data would be confusing for most users for someone like me it’d definitely be of interest. This means that, whilst the Up3 might be the most feature packed fitness tracker out there, in terms of actual, usable functionality it’s quite similar to a lot of bands already out there. For many that will make the rather high asking price a hard pill to swallow. There’s been promises of access to more data through the API for some time now but so far they have gone unfulfilled.
What the Up3 really has going for it though is the app which is well designed and highly functional. Setting everything up took about 5 minutes and it instantly began tracking everything. The SmartCoach feature is interesting as it skirts around providing direct health advice but tries to encourage certain, well established healthy behaviours. All the functions work as expected with my favourite being the sleep alarm. Whilst it took a little tweaking to get right (it seemed to just go off at the time I set for the most part initially) once it’s done I definitely felt more awake when it buzzed me. It’s not a panacea to all your sleep woes though but it did give me insight into what behaviours might have been affecting my sleep patterns and what I could do to fix them.
The heart rate tracking seems relatively accurate from a trend point of view. I could definitely tell when I was exercising, sitting down or in a particularly heated meeting where my heart was racing. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as there were numerous spikes, dips and gaps in the readings which often meant that the daily average was not entirely reliable. Again it was more interesting to see the trending over time and linking deviations to certain behaviours. If accuracy is the name of the game however the Up3 is probably not for you as it simply can’t be used for more than averaging.
What’s really missing from the Up3 and it’s associated app is the integration and distillation of all the data it’s able to capture. Many have looked to heart rate monitoring as a way to get more accurate calorie burn rates but the Up3 only uses the pedometer input to do this. The various other sensor inputs could also prove valuable in determining passive calorie burn rate (I, for instance, tend to run “hotter” than most people, something the skin temperature sensor can pick up on) but again their data is unused. On a pure specification level the Up3 is the most advanced tracker out there but that means nothing if that technology isn’t put to good use.
Would I recommend buying one? I’m torn honestly. On the one hand it does do the basic functions very well and the app looks a lot better than anything the competition has put out so far. However you’re paying a lot for technology that you’re simply not going to use, hoping that it will become available sometime in the future. Unless the optical heartrate tracking of other fitness trackers isn’t cutting it for you then it’s hard to recommend the Up3 above them and other, simpler trackers will provide much of the same benefit for a lower price. Overall the Up3 has the potential to be something great, but paying for potential, rather than actual functionality, is something that only early adopters do. That was an easier sell 6 months ago but with only one major update since then I don’t think many are willing to buy something on spec.
Much like my current aversion to smartwatches I’m equally disinterested in the idea of a fitness tracker. As a man of science I do like the idea in principle as anyone looking to better themselves should track as much data as they can to ensure what they’re doing is actually having an effect. However all the devices on market don’t appear to be much more than smart pedometers with nice interfaces something which doesn’t really track the kinds of things I’m looking for (since most of my exercise isn’t aerobic in nature). I don’t discount their value for others but if I was going to invest in one it’d have to do a lot more than just be an accelerometer attached to my wrist.
I may have found one in AIRO, a rather Jony Ive-esque device coming from a new 3 person startup. For the most part it sports the same features as other health trackers, presumably through the same method of an incorporated accelerometer, but its real claim to fame comes from its apparent ability to detect metabolites in your blood, without having to cut yourself to do so. AIRO also claims to be able to detect the quality of the food you’re eating as well which, from what I can tell by looking at their website, seems to be related to the macro-nutrient breakdown. As someone who regularly struggles to get enough calories to support their goals (yeah I’m one of those people, believe me it’s not as great as you might think it is) and really can’t be bothered to use a calorie tracker this is of particular interest to me, something I’d consider plonking down a chunk of change for.
Of course the sceptic in me was instantly roused by the idea that a device could non-invasively determine such things because such technology would be a boon to diabetics, not to mention any research program looking at monitoring caloric intake. Indeed something like this is so far out of left field that most of the mainstream coverage of the device doesn’t go into just how it works, except for referring to the fact that it measures calories and macro-nutrient breakdown based on light. It sounds like a great theory but since there’s no source material provided to show how their method works, nor any validation using standard means like doubly labelled water or even short term experiments with strictly controlled caloric intake.
I was going to leave it at that, and indeed not even write about it since I wanted to see some validation of the idea before I said anything, but then I stumbled across this article from ScienceDaily which links to a German study that has been able to measure blood glucose with infrared light. The function of their device sounds different to the one AIRO purports, instead using the infrared light to penetrate the skin and cause a resonance in the glucose within the bloodstream which their device can then pick up. Their device sounds like it would be anything but wearable however with a “shoebox sized” device planned to be released within the next few years. This doesn’t validate the idea behind AIRO but it does lend some credence to the idea that you’d be able to extract some kind of information about blood metabolites using light pulses.
So I’m definitely intrigued now, possibly to the point of shelling out the requisite $159 to get one delivered when they come out, but I would love to see some validation of the device by the inventors to prove their device can do what they say it can do. It’s not like this would be particularly difficult, hell if they send me a prototype device I’ll happily engage in a tightly controlled caloric diet in order to prove it can measure everything, and it would go a long way to convince the sceptics that what they’ve made really is as good as they say it is. Heck I bet there’s even a couple other startups that’d love to do some testing to prove that their products also work as intended (I’m looking at you, Soylent) and having that kind validation would be extremely valuable for both involved.
Even though I’ve dedicated a whole category on this blog to Fitness I’ve only ever posted a couple things directly relating to it. For the uninitiated I’m not what you’d call an expert on these matters, I know many more people more qualified than myself to give proper health advice, but would consider myself an informed individual. I’ve read countless numbers of journals, scientific news sites and rafts of forum posts to figure out the secrets to getting fit and staying that way. Of course in my research I’ll also come across some of the lesser known benefits of exercise and to me they make for some of the most compelling reasons to start exercising regularly.
I mentioned at the end of last year that you can see some pretty amazing benefits if you just stopped sitting for half an hour a day. This came hand in hand with another study that showed as little as 15 minutes worth of moderate exercise per day could add another 3 years to your life with the benefits apparently scaling linearly with more exercise. The effects of exercise appear to get even better if you manage to stay fit between your 30s and 50s, significantly reducing the incident rate of chronic illnesses as you age:
For decades, research has shown that higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels lessen the risk of death, but it previously had been unknown just how much fitness might affect the burden of chronic disease in the most senior years — a concept known as morbidity compression.
“We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life,” said Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study available online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In essence this means you can push back the clock on these age related diseases significantly should you keep your fitness level up during mid-life. Their recommendation is a paltry 2.5 hours per week of moderate to intense aerobic activity, something that can be achieved in well under 30 mins per day. This leads to an incredibly increase in your quality of life in later years meaning you’ll spend much less time having to deal with a chronic affliction later in life.
For me it just reinforces the notion that the “slowing down” everyone feels when they get older really is just a perception and not a physical constraint. Indeed all you need to do is to look at the MRIs comparing a 40 and 70 year old triathlete to that of a sedentary individual which shows that lean muscle mass can be preserved as long as you continue your exercise program. The benefits are not only under the skin either as this 75 year old demonstrates:
I remember one of my friends a while ago saying to me that now they were getting close to 30 they could start to feel parts of their body wearing out on them. To put it bluntly I lost my shit at them saying that I’d never been more active or physically fit in my life and put it to them that they were just perceiving that they were slowing down because they weren’t trying to be more active. If a 75 year old can look that good and still be working out at that age then us young whipper snappers who aren’t even half her age really have no excuses.
I could go on but realistically if these kinds of benefits, which can be had with very little time invested, aren’t enough to motivate you then I’m not really sure what will. Sure I’ll give you that it isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do but it’s very much a thing of habit and once you start doing it regularly you’ll find it incredibly hard to stop. Then later in life when you’re still feeling as awesome at 50 as you did at 30 you’ll know it was worth all the effort.
As I’ve alluded to in the past I’m somewhat of a fitness buff, mostly to balance out my predominately sedentary lifestyle of IT work and computer games. Of course when these two worlds collide I end up applying the same kind of iterative process I would to any IT problem or challenge in a game to fitness and the past couple years have been no exception. I mentioned in the past that I was doing CrossFit and since then I’ve tried several other workouts, meal plans and supplement regimes in order to maximise the benefits I get from exercising. 2 months ago I decided to give the PAGG stack from the 4 Hour Body a go after hitting another plateau in my training and I thought I’d share my experiences with it.
Here’s a little background on me so you can put this in perspective (this is at the start of using PAGG):
I took the PAGG stack as recommended: AGG 3 times a day, PAGG before bed and didn’t take it every Sunday. I wasn’t 100% with sticking to this, I’d say I was about 90% on time with it (meaning about 1 in every 10 times I’d miss taking it at the right time) but I believe that I was still close enough for it to be considered effective. I didn’t make any radical changes to my diet or exercise regime during this time either, so most changes can be ascribed to PAGG stack.
So as it stands right now I’ve gained approximately 2KGs whilst going down to 17%. Whilst it wasn’t the extreme fat burning I was expecting there was a definite downward trend when I was using PAGG. Since I’m trying to gain muscle at the moment its quiet possible that the supposed fat burning of PAGG is being muted somewhat as my caloric intake is somewhere around the 2800~3000 range every day. That being said since I didn’t change my diet during this time (and I’ve been on the same diet for a good 4 months prior) the additional 2KGs of muscle gain would appear to be attributable to taking PAGG.
Doing some extra research into the matter though it looks like the potential fat burning/muscle building effects that I experienced could be solely due to the EGCG in the stack. Indeed for the other components there is either no research showing efficacy (Policosanol, as 4HB even states), experimental evidence in certain models (ALA) or mixed experimental results (Allicin). Anecdotally the combination does appear to work, at least for me, but it’s entirely possible that EGCG is responsible for those changes alone. I’d do another round of anecdotal testing on myself to see how it goes, but I’ve got my eye on a new stack that I’m hoping will get close to ECA for efficacy.
Would I recommend PAGG for anyone? I would, at least for 2 months just to see if it works for you. If you buy the components individually it’s actually pretty cheap, on the order of about $30~$40/month, and you should be able to see benefits within a short enough time frame to know if its worth you continuing or not. Personally for me, whilst it did appear to work, I’ve decided to switch to some other supplements that have a bit more scientific backing on them and see how they turn out. If there’s one thing that I learnt from this is that EGCG is potentially quite powerful and should you not want to be downing 16+ pills a day then your best place to start would be with just that.