Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Garmin FR235 Watch Changed Me

A good title goes a long way in a blog post. How do you describe something in a sentence or less that tells the truth and yet is outlandish enough to get people to click on it? So I just said a watch changed me, and while it may not be a big change, read on to learn the details of how I have changed. 
FR235 on my wrist after breaking my hand August 20th.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 10,000 steps a day (or whatever an appropriate goal might be for you at the current time, maybe 5000 or 15,000 steps a day) is the best total fitness program I know of in my 15 years of thinking about fitness. Here are the reasons why a step goal is so great:
You can do it anywhere. No gym membership, workout clothes, or equipment of any type required.
You can break it up into very small chunks, like 100 steps at a time. I’ll revisit this later.
That comes to around 4-5 miles of walking, which is about twice the approximately 5000 steps per day the average sedentary American walks, which would mean a significant increase in activity for sedentary people. (Disclaimer, once people start wearing a step tracker with a number they can read, they walk more, so studdies of how much people walk are often biased by people wearing step trackers that display the number of steps.) Also, it’s low impact, you’re probably not going to get an injury from walking. 

I had no idea how many steps I took before I started wearing my FR235. Turns out 4000-5000 steps, not including running was pretty standard for me. While that is perfectly acceptable when I go out and run 8000-18,000 steps in the same day, when I take a day off running, my step count plummets. 

Finally getting to the topic, the first way the watch changed me was though an inactivity bar. After not walking or moving much for one hour, the watch will beep and vibrate at me, encouraging me to do about 100 steps to reset it. This is great! It’s a simple reminder that I need to take little breaks during my workday to stretch my legs. It takes about two minutes of walking to reset the inactivity bar. People say sitting is the new smoking, and I won’t argue. Humans aren’t meant to sit at desks for 8-10 hours a day… before going home to sit on a couch for a few more hours. If a little beep and buzz reminds me to spend two minutes moving around, it’s well worth the awkwardness in meetings when during a moment of silence my watch beeps. While the inactivity bar probably only added about 500-1000 steps to my average day, it was the first and most significant change in my routine.

The second way the watch changed me was the heart rate monitoring. When I keep saying I struggled to run in the heat this summer, I have heart rate data to back it up. My heart rate would climb into the 160s and 170s while I was running slower than 8 minutes per mile pace on flat ground, which is ridiculous! That means my body was working really hard to perform a task that under cooler conditions would result in a heart rate in the 130s. While I don’t like the Garmin recovery estimation after a workout because after just about every longer run I do it tells me I need 3-4 days of rest, the constant heart rate monitoring has helped me understand my perceived effort better. In other words, often in running you really need to do workouts at a perceived effort, not a concrete pace, and it’s hard to describe that without using heart rate. I ran with a heart rate monitor a number of times in the past, but not for every run, and especially not for most recovery runs. However, those recovery runs are probably the best time to use the heart rate monitor so that you really do take it as easy as you need.

The third way the watch changed me was through the step counter, by wanting to get in my goal number of steps per day. Typically when I run this isn’t an issue, but some days when I only do a few miles, it is, and I have to take an evening walk to reach my goal. While I have always enjoyed walks, this has given me some extra motivation to actually go out and put in 2000 steps after supper. 

The final way the watch has affected me, although I would not say it has changed me like the first three, is health metrics like sleep tracking and resting heart rate tracking. I don’t really do anything with the information, other than use it for confirmation bias that yes when I am averaging 7 hours of sleep over the past week I might need more rest, or when my resting heart rate dips below 45 yes I am indeed in okay shape.

I realize that the three benefits that I mention can be had on a watch without GPS and bluetooth connectivity to a smartphone, so you don’t need to go out and spend this kind of money on a activity tracker, in fact, it’s overkill if you don’t plan to use the GPS or the continuous heart rate monitoring. After all, I did use the thing to the top of Mt. Everest, and I’m pretty sure that of the tens of thousands of people that have bought the watch so far, I was the only one to really put it through it’s paces on top of the world. 

As a footnote, I’m writing this now because Apple Watch Series 2 came out not too long ago and now that GPS is internal, it can do all of the same that my Garmin FR235 watch does, and more, although the GPS time seems to max out at 5 hours, versus 11 for my FR235, which is a big difference for a person like me. I like getting text messages to my watch, and notifications for flights or weather. While I never used to wear a watch, now seems to be the time when having a smart watch seems reasonable. I imagine in about two years when the next generation of Garmins and Apple Watch are released, I will be totally sold on wearing a watch all the time the rest of my life, which is just not something I did the first 29 years. A watch was a tool for my running and mountaineering, but wasn’t incorporated into my life the way it is now. Of course... this could change as I grow and change.

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