The Future of Fitness and Medicine? There’s an App For That.

For those just tuning in, I’m running my first marathon since 2002 in LA in March and raising money for Pablove. If you don’t mind, please head on over to my fundraising page and give a little something. Anything is appreciated. Thanks so much to David, Kether, Char, Liz, Mom, Alysha, and Gia for the donations thus far (sorry to make you cry, mom!). I made it over the first run ($250) thanks to you. If others can help me get over that $500 rung this week I’d be ecstatic. THANKS!

I’m currently 2 weeks into an 18-week Higdon program. You can follow along with my training at my RunKeeper page. If you’d like to train for the LA Marathon there is still time to sign up for one of the 16-week courses at RunKeeper.

And now for this week’s installment…


Anyone who has had the misfortune of talking to me about either innovation or fitness recently knows I’m obsessed with how technology can help us move from reactive care to wellness care through feedback and incentives. For example, I use a few devices and Web sites to track my workout, what I’m eating, weight and heart rate. Through these I get a complete feedback loop: What I Ate + What I Did = Result. The Result might be weight fluctuations but it might be faster loops around the track or a long run without that hit-by-a-truck feeling. Also, since my friends and family can track my progress via both public and private Web pages I have a little built-in peer pressure to keep me honest. This feedback loop is inspiring and motivating for me and I thought I’d share my setup here in case it’s useful for anyone else who is looking for a little inspirado.

What I’m using:


  1. Fitbit – Fitbit is a fancy pedometer attached to I keep it in my pocket all day, clipped to my shorts when I run, and clipped to a (Fitbit-provided) wrist band while I sleep. It tells me how many steps I’ve taken, calories burned, and quality of sleep. I doubt any of the three are 100% accurate but that’s not important in practice, what I find it most useful for is getting a sense of your relative activity.

    It’s eye-opening and inspiring to see that on a day I simply go to the office and home again I take around 4,000 steps whereas a Sunday like today where I run ~10 miles I’ll clock in more than 20,000 steps. Fitbit recommends we all have a daily goal of 10,000 steps and that’s pretty hard to hit without trying if you drive to work — you have to take a walk at least to get there, but a short walk will put you over 10K easy. In other words, it’s a do-able goal but unless you walk to work/class you’ve probably got to make a little time for exercise to get there.

    There’s much more to than just the pedometer, though. You can input virtually any activity (I track my weight training as “active” time) as well as track what you eat. I don’t track the intake very often, but I try to track it now and again just to get a sense for how many calories I’m eating vs. burning on a typical day (it doesn’t take too many days to get a feel for how you’re doing, generally speaking). The sleep tracking is more interesting than I thought it would be. It doesn’t give you much data depth (for that you’d need something like the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach) but it is definitely interesting to look at the history and see how much sleep you’re getting on average. Looking at these trends can point to some patterns and habits that could use adjusting (such as staying up at night blogging and listening to music instead of going to bed and reading — whoops).

    At $99 the Fitbit is a no-brainer purchase relative to the data and motivation you can get from it (just don’t run it through your washing machine). Jawbone has a new entry in the space called “UP” but I haven’t tried it yet — if you have any thoughts on it please leave a comment.

  2. Withings Wifi Scale – This is just a weight scale you stand on, it measures your weight and takes a guess at body fat and uploads the results to the Web. The scale seems to be a little light in a flattering sort of way (it thinks I’m ~150, I’m really more around ~155) and who knows how accurate the body fat guess is but like the Fitbit the real value here is in the relative more than the absolute. I’m not trying to lose weight but taking weight measurements a couple times a week along with everything else is a great reality check. Stepping on the scale is the equals sign — I did this, I ate that, so then what? Oh, it equals this. You start to see the impact of little changes and fluctuations. Every lab needs a way to measure results. $150 on Amazon.
  3. A GPS-enabled Watch w/Heart Rate Monitor – I use a Garmin Forerunner 305 I picked up for less than $100 at my daughter’s preschool auction a couple years back. It’s not the state of the art but it’s a great watch: long battery life for long runs and an excellent interface interval training. Sure, it’s bulky, but you get used to that really quickly (I don’t even think about it anymore). There’s a fancier Garmin watch with the same features now but I can’t vouch for it personally, let me know if you have experience with any of the newer models.
  4. RunKeeper

  5. rules. You might know it as the running app for iPhone but it’s so much more than that, it’s awesome even if you don’t run or run with a watch like mine instead of an iPhone. All of the things I mention above, the Garmin watch, Withings Scale, and Fitbit all feed into and give me a place to collect all my workouts and data. They support apps and I use a RunKeeper app called Stronger to track my strength-training and stretching, too. I can easily look at trends in weekly mileage, see that I tend to be most active at 6am (yikes!), or a bunch of other stats. Plus I can see what my friends are up to — Facebook for fitness nerds of all levels.
  6. – I thought the old Nike+ Flash site was the worst site ever made but gives it a serious run for its money. The site is basically unusable but has one saving grace: it will send you a nightly email with your training prescription for the next two days from some of the top coaches in the world. I’m using it now for one of (fellow Hoosier) Hal Higdon’s programs. The emails are great but I’m not getting any value from the site. I can’t figure out why I would pay $20/month for when gives me so much more and more easily, too. But I’m thankful for the Higdon training program.

Yes, I’ve transferred my nerd-ness to personal telemetry. I suppose there are worse things to do with it. But I really do find each of these things valuable. Recommended. I hope that’s helpful.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where the technology + health space goes from here. Check out Daniel Kraft’s incredible TED talk below for a peek at the future of medicine, personal telemetry, and stage-zero care and prevention. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Must sleep, get up early, strap on, and hit the road…


Long Beach-Lakewood-20111124-00047.jpg

ps – this past weekend my five year-old ran her first race, the kids half-mile at the Long Beach Turkey Trot. After I attempted pushing her in the stroller for the 5K. Crowded field on a boardwalk pushing a stroller — it was frustrating going trying to weave through the crowd and run a reasonable pace. After my daughter said, “You hit everybody.” I pleaded innocence, saying, “Not everybody!” She responded, “Well, most people.” So, apologies to anyone (everyone?) I ran into during that 5K. On Saturday Nicole, Miranda, and I ran the Santa Monica version of the Thanksgiving weekend run, The Gobble Wobble. I broke 20 minutes in the 5K but was 30 seconds slower than I’d hoped. It was a fun race, though, Nic and Miranda killed it!


  1. Yair yona wrote:

    Been using Runkeeper for couple of months. Amazing indeed. Too bad it can’t track the threadmil workout though

  2. Mike Hughes wrote:

    Ian –

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I’m not as deep into the fitness gadget rabbit hole as you are yet but I’m getting there. Runkeeper has also been my saving grace since I started running back in Jan of 2010. I started from zero having never run in my life aside from run/walking a 5k in December of 2009. I started with a 13 week running program (run 1 minute, walk 2 minutes, etc) and built up to running two half marathons, a ragnar relay, an olympic triathlon, half ironman and a full ironman along with many 5ks in 22 short months. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Runkeeper. I found that it made me push myself harder when I could easily look at and analyze my progress. At one point I stopped it automatically posting to Facebook and Twitter and then had people actually ask me to turn it back on as they found it to be inspiring.

    In regards to the Jawbone Up, I have heard pretty bad things so far. The four people I know that bought one returned it within a week due to wildly inaccurate measurements and the fact that it was uncomfortable and the vibration alarm didn’t seem to work. I don’t want to hate on it without using it but I’ve heard enough for me to at least wait until the next version.

    Also, have you ever looked at Ben Greenfield’s website and/or podcast? If not, I think you’d really dig it, give it a listen here:

    He’s a tri guy but is also a personal trainer and general fitness nut and talks a lot about fitness and nutrition on a wide array of topics.

    Best of luck on the marathon. I’m waiting to get the final thumbs up for Radnar SoCal and will let you all know asap.


  3. Mike Hughes wrote:

    To get straight to Ben Greenfield’s podcasts on iTunes, hit this link:

    His site is a little bit ad-heavy.

  4. Jason wrote:

    Obviously with you on so on this. I have the UP, which I like _ok_ but find it’s just not quite there. The sleep info is it’s best function, while the food tracking is laughable. I’ve been using MyFitnessPal for about two years to track food. Also since we last talked, I dropped the Nike+ SportWatch GPS watch for a 610… not looking back.

    Happy tracking,

  5. cristobal wrote:

    Got catherine an UP for xmas. She wanted it. But wanted nothing to do with the wifi scale. “I don’t want to know how much I weigh, why would I want to share it?!?” I think it’s an interesting approach to food – where they give you trends instead of trying to get the details down. Since the majority of people are horribly inaccurate with recording their food anyway – why propagate the lies. Just track what food makes your feel good after a few hours and what food makes you feel sluggish.

    How are you using the heart rate monitor? i’m thinking that’s the next thing I want to track, but not really sure what I want to do with it.

  6. Taylor Davidson wrote:

    Love everything related to health and fitness hacking; so much data ready to captured and analyzed to help us get better. I’ve worn a FitBit for almost a year, and love it.

    If you decide to add lifting to your fitness regimen, check out Fitocracy (

  7. Andre wrote:

    Number of the Beast? C’mon, you know Killers with Paul Di’Anno is the best Maiden album

  8. Brendan Moore wrote:

    After reading this article, I bought the FitBit for my girlfriend for Christmas!

    I was weighing between FitBit and Jawbone’s UP, but really glad I went with FitBit after reading that Jawbone is so awful that they are offering a refund to all users, even if they keep the wristband:

  9. Boz wrote:

    Thanks for sharing. Runkeeper looks awesome; I just signed up.

    I tried one of their competitors a little while ago, but the site made me want to gouge my eyeballs out and smash my computer with a sledge hammer. Needless to say, I didn’t stick with it and have been looking for a replacement ever since.

  10. iancr wrote:

    I’m guessing you tried Training Peaks. Unfortunately it hasn’t improved in the intervening months. 😉

    Add me as a Street Team member on RunKeeper, please!


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