My tech and Me: The wearable revolution

Brid-Aine Parnell

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Wearable fitness bands may seem like a bit of a fad. But Brid-Aine Parnell found the amount of data you can extract from knowing how much you move each day could lead to simple, life-changing adjustments.

We’ve all been hearing a lot about the wearable revolution for some time now. And for as long as we’ve been hearing about them, we’ve been hearing the criticism. It’s always seemed a little odd that just as mobile phone makers manage to train us to look for our time on our gadgets instead of our wrists, they’d start churning out smart-watches. The idea of smart specs just seems ungainly and accident-prone, particularly to people who aren’t wearing glasses already.

I never expected to own any wearable, and I’ve yet to be moved to buy one. However, I was given one during the course of my job and, despite the fact that it was one of those fitness bands, I decided to give it a go.

The first thing I learned is that a lot of the ‘fitness’ wearables aren’t about going out and having a run or counting the calories in every meal. They’re about monitoring the ongoing health of your lifestyle.

With just a motion sensor inside, my wearable can only track my movements – nothing else, which seemed like a pretty expensive one-trick pony to me. But it’s amazing how much you can learn from movement. The first, most obvious, is how many steps you’re taking each day. Not while you’re exercising, but just in the normal course of the day.

Even more interestingly, a motion sensor can track your sleep, down to monitoring whether you’re in light sleep or deep sleep, when you move less. Armed with these two pieces of data, you can make all kinds of extrapolations through the associated app and over time, these add up to real insights into your life.

For example, scientists and doctors are always saying that we need a certain number of hours of sleep, they just can’t always agree on how many. And it certainly does seem that the hours you sleep affects then number of steps you take the next day. It’s amazing how many fewer steps you can take in the exact same routine of a home-work-home day when you’re tired. Maybe you don’t step out to lunch, or you walk to a closer sandwich shop instead.

These little insights can help you figure out exactly how many hours’ sleep you need to be most awake and productive. Even more than that, sharing the data anonymously can help to draw larger conclusions about sleeping patterns and exercise that will filter back down to you in daily tips.

Also, did I mention that it wakes you up every morning by gently buzzing against your wrist within a 20 minute window when your sleep is at its lightest? That’s a pleasant way to wake up.