Time to get fit (by )

Sarah's been putting a lot of work into losing weight lately, but apart from the fitness stuff I do in Krav Maga classes most weeks, I've not really paid much attention to my own health. However, my work have a fancy new medical insurance benefit thing, which has two features of relevance: One is that they pay for us to be poked and prodded and weighed and so on to establish our basic health parameters, and the other is that they encourage us to do exercise and eat well through a complex system of points-based incentives.

This has a two-pronged effect: It's told me that my body mass index (23.4) is in the healthy range (18.5-25), but a bit close to the top end; and my blood pressure (124/75) should be under (120/80). Thankfully, both of these can be improved by doing more cardiovascular exercise; and with the complex system of points-based incentives, this is GAMIFIED. Combined that with discounts on interesting fitness tracker gadgets, and feeling that nagging awkward feeling of watching Sarah work really hard on her weight loss while I slumped on the sofa with my laptop, and it started to become inevitable that I was going to start doing more exercise.

So, I got a discounted Polar RC3 GPS. This is a watch with a GPS and some smarts in it, which communicates via radio with a heart rate monitor worn on a strap. By logging heart rate data it can measure my exertion in an activity, and if that activity involves moving around (running or cycling, for instance) it can combine that with speed and gradient information from the GPS to work out what effort I was expending. This data is uploaded via a USB cable to a Web service that Polar run (alas, I have to depend on them keeping the thing up and bothering to securely store all my data, although there does seem to be an option to download it in a documented file format; but if the site goes down, I'll be having to reverse-engineer their USB protocol to continue to get data from my watch).

The fun is in the analysis, however. Their software has a model of human metabolism that works out how much strain I'm putting on my system, how many calories I've used, how many calories of fat I've burnt, and an efficiency factor they call "running index". It'll gather data across exercise sessions and work out trends and all sorts of fun stuff, including a "training load" graph that tracks an exponentially decaying cumulative average of the strain I undergo; horizontal bands on the chart indicate cumulative load levels where I should be taking things easy for a few days.

It also has an ability to suggest training schedules, which can be uploaded into the watch, and will then guide me - giving me a target heart rate to aim for for a given time period, then moving up to a higher pace, than down again, for instance.

So I've set myself the target of doing at least one - and ideally three or four - runs a week, where I spend at least half an hour above seventy percent of my estimated maximum heart rate. Here's one I did earlier. You can even see what I did on a little map, including my cool-down period at the end!

The data from this thing feeds into the health insurance provider, too, which then drives their points-based incentive system. This has an unexpected benefit; although I'm quite enamored of earning points on principle, some of the benefits are things that Sarah and the kids enjoy (free cinema tickets once a week, Starbucks or iTunes credit, etc). That makes an incentive for them to send me out on runs; given how busy our life is, that's surprisingly useful!

Other than meeting my weight and blood pressure goals, and generally increasing the number of armed assailants I can disable at Krav before I start to get sweaty, I'd quite like to do a marathon or something one day.

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