Data is Power(ful): Body Knowledge

As many of you who read this blog know, I have been training lately. For what? Nothing in particular except for getting into better shape, looking and feeling better, but this training has gotten me back in touch with my body. In more ways than I could imagine.

I was working out with a friend a couple of months ago who had a fancy watch on that was connected to a strap around his chest. When we were side-by-side on the treadmill, the machine picked up his heart rate and read it to me. He explained that he could keep better track of his progress in and out of the gym if he could record his heart rate.

As I paid more attention to my workout regime and progress, I started thinking about how useful this data would be to me and for my birthday I asked friends and family to give me money instead of gifts so I could put it towards one of these fancy watches. This weekend I finally bought a really nice heart rate monitor watch:

And started to record…well…everything. At first it was a rollerblading journey, but then I got curious. Why was my average heart rate at 154 when I didn’t feel very out of breath or tired? I recall my friends’ being at 128 or so and he was sweating pretty good. So I ran it during preparing dinner. Average 91 bpm. Seems a little high, but not ridiculous for a relaxing activity. So I tested my levels and found out that my heart rate rises super quickly. And I don’t get out of breath, either. It just goes from about 85/90 to 125/130 to 150/155 in a matter of a minute just from moving around a bit (taking stairs, doing pushups/situps, etc) and then drops just as fast when I stop. I also found out that I don’t actually start breathing heavy until about 170 or so.

This has prompted me to go get that long overdue checkup next week. Something that I have been putting off for way too long. I have been working out steadily now for about 4 months. Taking care of myself. Eating better. Feeling great. But the heart rate is not normal. And I have noticed that I require more sleep than average over the past few years and the exercise hasn’t made it better.

The point here isn’t that I’m concerned about my health, but that I wouldn’t know there is anything to be concerned about if I didn’t have the data that the Polar heart rate monitor has given me. Which made me start thinking about how little data we have on our own bodies and how little we have to compare it against (if it wasn’t for my fitness-buff friend, I wouldn’t know that 155 is a really high mid-range heart rate). Is there anyone out there that has their health records back to the time they were born? Hell, I don’t even have health records back to when my son was born. *Gulp* I may not even have health records back to the last doctor’s visit I had. Now where was that?

Of course we’ve seen the sci-fi movies like Minority Report where this data in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing…and, well, there are multiple commercial entities trying to gather our health records together, but what about you and I? And where is our mechanism to start gathering this information without worrying about how it’s being paid for? My heart rate monitor is a good start, but what about other biometrics? The cost of testing is coming down. It really is. I have my latest eye testing results. That was $50. I joined 23 and Me a couple of years back. A little steeper at $399, but I’m sure it will come down as more people join. Now where to store it? Analyze it? Is there an SMS alert I can set up if something seems out of place?

Frankly, the thought of having this additional information about my body is kind of exciting. Something I’m willing to pay for. To monitor. If I knew the effects of that poutine I had at 3 am a couple of weeks ago were in real time, I would probably watch what I put in my body. I would walk more. I wouldn’t have that extra drink. I would definitely never bum a cigarette when drinking. But right now it’s invisible and even though I kind of get the effects of my personal abuse, I keep abusing.

I wonder how much more effective self-monitoring would be in disease prevention? Cancer? Obesity? Heart disease? Would we start to become numb to the information or would it actually make us healthier? I think it’s the latter. The more I can look inside of my body, the less I want to abuse it. The new gaming becomes how to achieve the perfect score on health. Better than any badges, getting an all-time high score on the state of my lungs would be something to tweet about.

We are just at the beginning of how important data is going to become in our lives. From our bodies to what we spend to our location to our relationships and beyond. We are just starting to realize how us being aware of, owning and controlling our data is going to be the most powerful part of our future.

Categories: featured, personal, vrm

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

11 Comments on “Data is Power(ful): Body Knowledge”

  1. Kathy sierra
    July 25, 2010 at 19:50 #

    The first thing in would suggest is to take your heart rate manually in different situations just to make sure you are getting a good reading from the monitor. I had the same issue with mine, and ended up at the cardiologist who said the appearance of a high heart rate was that the sensors on my Polar were not giving me an accurate reading ( with some tech details about why… Nothing wrong with the monitor, just a problem getting a good reading from me based on my own topology wrt to the pickups… Or something like that.) they encouraged me to keep using it, but with some adjustments, but that was only after having an intense card stress test on the treadmill.

    Today, I am not running as much, but I have two horses in serious training, and I have been told to put them on heart rate monitors. I’m pretty sure sometimes when they act tired, they’re faking it ;)

    I love these things. What do you think of fitbit?

  2. July 25, 2010 at 21:24 #

    It’s part of an overall trend to self-monitor and regulate, don’t you think? It’s like a fetish – and something that Michel Foucault would have been very interested in. There are gadgets, technologies, bindings, reports and even social reminders. But is the data binding us or setting us free? Let me know if you figure out the answer ;)

  3. July 26, 2010 at 03:01 #

    Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly call the idea of tracking personal data the “quantified self”, and they’ve been running meetups in the Bay Area where people share self-tracking tips. They also run an interesting blog on the topic:

  4. July 26, 2010 at 05:10 #

    Mike Heppert is using the Polar FA20 with kids to get them up and get them moving in 30/60 minute increments at

    It comes with a complete tracking portal so kids & parents can log and review their performance and improvement. So far it’s had a positive impact towards reducing sedentary behavior – part of it is the easy visual aspect, part of it is rewarding active behavior. [Disclosure – Mike is a former client and good friend.]

  5. Wendy
    July 26, 2010 at 05:58 #

    So so true. I just spent a month trying to track down immunization records for myself and finally gave up and got first tested, then re-immunized. Turns out I wasn’t immune to measles, and I’m really glad I didn’t have to find that out the hard(er) way. Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of “optional” immunizations that I don’t really want to pay to have if I don’t need, but don’t seem to have any way of finding out whether I’m correct in thinking I don’t need. That’s what happens when you move every two years–I don’t even remember the names of all the doctors in my adult life, much less my teenage years. And I definitely wish that data was readily available!

  6. July 26, 2010 at 06:15 #

    It’s actually because my doctor checked my heart rate (years ago) that I was diagnosed with Graves Disease. I think you’re doing a smart thing – even if it turns out to be nothing.

  7. July 27, 2010 at 11:54 #

    Hi! Which heart rate monitor did you purchase?

  8. Tara Hunt
    July 27, 2010 at 11:57 #

    @Kelly The FT60 by Polar (pictured in the post):

  9. August 2, 2010 at 16:23 #

    Hi Tara,

    Have you found out yet why your heart rate is high? I have something similar. Just walking around my heart rate will be 90 or so. At 140 I’m not even breathing hard. Get me to 160-170 and then I’m feeling it. I’m guessing this just may be normal variation. The stats for normal are just an average.

    I’m curious to hear what you find out.

  10. August 24, 2010 at 11:41 #

    How easy is it to get the data out of the watch? I don’t think it becomes useful until you can combine with other information (health, exercise, food, etc.).

    I’ve been waging a small battle to try and get diabetes equipment makers to change their software so users can extract the data from the specific applications and do other things with it.

    As we use more devices that allow us to gather increasing amounts of data, the device makers must provide us an easy and portable way to take that data from their single platform and mash it up with other data so we can get meaningful results that are pertinent to us.

    Here’s hoping.


  1. Data is Power(ful): Body Knowledge - July 25, 2010

    […] If I knew the effects of that poutine I had at 3 am a couple of weeks ago were in real time, I would probably watch what I put in my body. But right now it’s invisible and even though I kind of get the effects of my personal abuse, I keep abusing. Alltop RSS […]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63,436 other followers

%d bloggers like this: