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Anna Törner: “My quantified life”

“The expression ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’ feels newly relevant in the context of wearables. One can easily get caught up in the idea that the more we measure, the more we know,” Anna Törner writes in a column.

As a statistician, I love to measure and quantify, even variables that normally cannot be evaluated in numbers so easily, such as my quality of life. So, I got myself a smartwatch, and I measure and measure and keep measuring.

Imagine what it was like in the past, like in the 20th century, when you had no idea what was going on with your health and physical well-being. Now, I wake up to the smartwatch’s morning report with an evaluation of my sleep, how much deep, light and REM sleep I’ve had during the night and the number of awake episodes. 

Of course, it raises questions when I choose to sleep with my watch on, but how would I otherwise be able to keep track of how I really feel?

Typically, I wake up with a “Body Battery” of around 80. The lowest possible value is five, at least as long as a minimum of vital functions, such as heart rate and breathing, are working. Now, isn’t it great that, already in the morning, I can get an indication of how much I will be able to cope with during the day? Should I spend 30 battery snaps on a jog, or should I lay low and work from home, or even chill with Netflix on the sofa? 

My own empirical observation is that truly low-intensity couch surfing can actually charge the battery by a few notches. It’s a great trick when battery capacity is low.

From an energy-preserving perspective, it is actually counterproductive to waste a lot of energy on exercise, but I also need to achieve my weekly intense minutes. As you know, the WHO recommends 150-300 intense minutes per week, i.e. heart rate raising exercise/activity of a certain intensity. Without my smartwatch, how would I keep track of that? 

With a glance at my wrist, I am continuously updated on my weekly intense minutes throughout the day (currently 118). Next, imagine the joyful bliss when you take the left lane of the escalator on the Östermalmstorg metro and squeeze in five extra intense minutes on your way to lunch!

We practice it by using various smart wearables in our private lives, and as a professional statistician, I see it in clinical studies: the supposed equivalence between more data and more knowledge.

The hottest thing right now is low-intensity exercise, inspired by our ancient DNA from the days when we roamed the plains. I’ve read that men and women averaged 17k and 14k steps daily in hunter-gatherer societies. I quietly ponder how they would know that? I doubt they counted the steps and carved the number in rocks. Now, it’s no big deal, as my smartwatch takes care of that too.

 Sometimes, I have to walk an extra lap around Reimersholme (an islet in central Stockholm) when I get home in the evening to even out the score. Who can sleep peacefully – and achieve an acceptable sleep score – with an even daily result of 9 500 steps? The same thing applies when I swim around the same islet: the distance is about 1 900 metres, which feels like a mockery. I polish the statistics by swimming around an extra pier on the way: 2 000 metres flat.

The expression “you can’t see the forest for the trees” feels newly relevant in the context of wearables. One can easily get caught up in the idea that the more we measure, the more we know. We practice it by using various smart wearables in our private lives, and as a professional statistician, I see it in clinical studies: the supposed equivalence between more data and more knowledge.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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