Summary of the book for those who don't want to read the whole report:
The main issues with fitness technology, as highlighted in this book, can be summarized into 4 parts:
The data you receive from a wearable device or another piece of fitness technology is not guaranteed to be accurate. Not only that, the device has no idea about the context in which the data is being collected. Are you training for a marathon or trying to lose weight? Should you collect the same data for these different scenarios? Lastly on the point of data, who is the one interpreting the data? Do you feel qualified to interpret it or will you let the device do it for you? The book's solution to this is to find a qualified professional to help you collect and interpret data for the optimal use of a device.
The next main issue highlighted in the book has to do with the gratification process of tracking your fitness. Meeting the goals and guidelines of the device can take over the
purpose behind your exercise. Just like getting a "like" on social media, your body produces a little hit of dopamine when you complete an activity on your wearable. So, instead of getting 10,000 steps in because you enjoy a nice walk from time to time, you're forcing yourself to keep walking until your wrist dings and vibrates.
Awareness is large portion of this book. The authors argue that increasing awareness of your body and your environment will be more useful in optimizing your health and fitness than reading the characters on your screen. They urge readers to go outside and fully experience their workouts without distraction. So, instead of being dependent upon your device to tell you what, when and how to do your workouts, you can listen to the directions coming within yourself and from your environment. See that tree over there? Feel that urge to go climb it? Do it, as long your aware of your abilities. Don't wait for your watch to tell you its ok.
The last problem that I picked up from the authors is the problem of intention. What do you intend to do with the data your device gives you? Also, what is the intention of the company that sold it to you? Do those two intentions truly align or is the marketing of these companies more powerful than your ability to determine what you really need? In order to avoid making unnecessary purchases, talk with your healthcare professionals (doctor, trainer, health coach etc.) or do some research online to find a professional who understands this topic in depth.
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The authors (Dr. Andy Galpin, Brian Mckenzie and Phil White) highlight an important downside to fitness tech that I hadn't considered, which is the use of tech to manipulate the brain's habit/reward system. It has been shown that receiving texts or likes on social media gives the receiver a "hit" of dopamine which influences behavior through feelings of reward. These feelings of being rewarded lead to habit formation and direct the users attention to the social media app, or in this case, a wearable fitness device. Exercise actually provides a similar rush of endorphins but over a longer duration and its usually more profound. A runners high is a good example of this cocktail of pleasurable neurotransmitters. So which pathway of reward/pleasure should we allow to form our habits? To me it seems obvious, we should be allowing our feelings of wellbeing to come from activities that positively impact our health. While fitness devices can lead to activity its probably better to cut out the middle man and focus on the exercise itself. Before moving away from this idea, the authors mentioned early in the text that wearables and other fitness technology can bring inactive people into a more active lifestyle, so it does have some value. However, the authors also reference a study that claims 50% of people (in the study) who started their fitness journeys using a device eventually stopped and participated in even less activity than before. Keeping this is mind, the authors caution readers to find an intrinsic motivation to drive you towards your fitness goals instead of relying on the digital reinforcement provided by a device.
Another danger of fitness tracking thats highlighted in this book is the inaccuracy of the data. Most of the fitness trackers on the market are based on monitoring heart rate and creating other data based off of heart rate calculations. The most prominent calculation being the age old "220 minus age equals max heart rate". The authors point out that this calculation is antiquated and inaccurate at best. Instead of using this calculation it may be more wise to just record your heart rate during high intensity exercise to see what your actual maximum heart rate is (and by the way, it may change on daily basis or even during the day).
While the authors spend plenty of time warning against the dangers of fitness tracking technology, the book is not intended to completely dissuade people from using it. The author's actual intention is to optimize the use of this type of technology so that it does not ruin the experience of training or limit the benefits of the training itself. One solution they pose to aide in the use of fitness trackers is using professional consultation. A big issue with fitness tracking is the large quantity of data being provided in contrast to the limited understanding of the average user. To combat this issue the authors suggest that people take the data they've collected over a large period of time (week-month-year) and bring it to a fitness professional who can interpret the data accurately. Instead of trying to read the graphs, figures and percentages daily and try to act on this almost meaningless and non-contextual data, collect the data and take a step back to view the patterns and discuss them with a professional. This takes a great deal of stress and confusion out of the equation and allows you to get more accurate interpretations of the data and more precise instructions as to what you should do next.
Another solution provided in this book revolves around media/technology fasting (literally unplugging as the book suggests). Again, the authors are very cautious NOT to tell everyone that they need to just completely drop their devices and forget them. They instead suggest taking fasts from time to time? How do you know when its time for a fast? Try to be aware of your dependence to your device, maybe notice your reactions when you lose it, forget to charge it or forget to check it. Your mental health is a good indicator of the devices grip on you. Does your need to check your device or just checking your device and seeing poor numbers create anxiety or bad self talk? Probably time to take a few days off. When you come back to your device make sure to remember how it made you feel before and see if you can notice these feelings earlier before they build up to drastically.
The last solution I'll discuss comprised a large portion of this book. The authors made sure to be clear that people NEED TO GET OUTDOORS! They were also very clear that you should do so WITHOUT A DEVICE! Connecting with nature and directing your awareness towards its beauty and complexity appears to be a huge pillar of mental health and health in general. When interviewing journalist and author, Steven Kotler, about mental health he mentioned that "We know a twenty-minute walk in the woods outperforms every SSRI on the market." I am not sure of the full accuracy of that statement but form what I understand Kotler is not exaggerating. The outdoors is our original and legitimate environment. If you live in a major city than you experiencing a lifestyle and environment that is almost completely foreign to your genome. Getting back out in to nature is crucial to elevating your health, much more crucial than tracking your fitness through a device.
The last claim I will highlight from the book has to do with awareness. Now that you have a fitness device (assuming that you do) your attention is being pulled in even more directions at once. Before it was just your phone, but now your wrist is beeping and buzzing and your chest strap is blinking, causing you to be in a perpetual state of constant partial awareness (or CPA). This constant partial awareness is neither a state of relaxation nor a fully awakened state of alertness. Its a miserable limbo in between. Limiting the amount of "attention grabbers" is within your best interests if you are looking to optimize performance and health. So unplug, get outdoors and use your device with intelligence and not dependance. Your health is in your own hands but there are people out there who can help. Don't listen to the ad selling you a smart watch or some kind of digital trainer. Educate yourself, learn to hear what your body is telling you and find someone who can help you do both.
I hope you enjoyed this report on Unplugged: evolve from technology to upgrade your fitness, performance & consciousness. Happy Breathing!