A few days ago someone flashed his Apple WATCH announceing he might periodically take standing breaks at the watches' promptings. Apart from being a bit socially odd at this point the idea seems like it may be good. There is a a body of research showing that extended sedentary periods are unhealthy - even for those who are otherwise physically active. Standing and even walking desks with treadmills have become more common, but in the past few years it has been suggested that periodic standing was good. If true it would be wonderful - powerful benefits with little effort are rare. You could set an alert on on your computer or, better yet, have your watch remind you. Apple has seized the idea and implemented a reminder in their watch. Unfortunately it may not be ponies and rainbows...
Sedentary research turns out to be difficult and there aren't many solid studies on periodic standing. It appears there is some benefit but it now appears that a bit more exercise is needed. More work still needs to be done, but it appears you should get up and walk around for a couple of minutes. That might be problematic in meetings, but should be easy in the office or the home. You can still use your watch or a timer on your computer, but move around a bit. It may even make for some interesting meetings:-)
Smartwatches (or just watches when they're popular enough in a few years) can be very good at alerting, prompting behavior. Making measurements is another thing - you have to understand what is being measured how it is properly used. Take calories burned while running as an example ...
full stop - calories burned in exercise is a red herring
It is possible to measure human output with a calibrated ergometer. Such beasts exist on some professional exercise kit. Bicycle power meters are perhaps the most common example.1 They are accurate, but useless if you want to figure out food you've burned as involves knowing the efficiency of your metabolism and muscles. There are ballpark figures of 20 to 25% average efficiency for many activities. That doesn't matter to the athlete who only wants to know how much useful work her muscles are delivering as a gauge of training technique and performance. Most exercise equipment in homes and commercial gyms makes a mostly uncalibrated power measurement and displays calories burned by adjusting with an assumed efficiency. There is a tendency to report an optimistic figure - sort of like sizing on some clothing clothing.
It would be nice if we could calculate how much nutritional energy we consumed and how much we burned. It would then be an easy matter to populate a spreadsheet and do the accounting to see if we're gaining or losing weight. Unfortuantely there is a bad data problem at nearly every step of the process:
° We don't know how much energy is in the food we eat. Even if we have a good idea of the accurate caloric density of a dish (and that is rare), few of us weigh our food. Almost all experiments that carefully look at what we've eaten and compare it with self reported estimates show errors on the order of 25 to 35%.
° Few of us know our resting metabolic rate.
° Almost none of us know the efficiency of our digestion and metabolism. This is an area of active research and non-trivial to measure. The flora in your gut appears to have a major impact.
° Likewise almost none of us have any sense of how many calories we burn a day from normal activity. It is much more complex than counting steps and other forms of exercise.
The good news is most of us were born with a fantastic feedback mechanism to adjust our eating and match it to our activity. The body knows when to shift burning food to storing it in the form of fat, but normally sends a message in the form of satiation during a meal. Unfortunately with calorically dense and readily available food it is easy to ignore internal feedback signals.
Humans have far and away the most body fat of any of the primates - a marathon runner is fat compared with a chimpanzee. In times of abundance we deposit fat. If we've put on too much weight in theory we can just eat less, but this is where evolution has been cruel. If you've been overweight for an extended period your metabolism becomes more efficient.2 Say your normal weight should be 150 pounds and you didn't gain weight on about 2,000 calories a day. If you go up to 180 and finally manage to get down to 150 again you'll dramatically gain weight on 2,000 calories a day - your needs have dropped by a few hundred per day - perhaps to around 1,700. Your internal feedback for satiation doesn't adjust to the new number.
While a normal person who hasn't been overweight can listen to his body someone who has a damaged feedback mechanism can't. For these people the external measure of counting calories is be important if they want to maintain the lower number. Since exact calorie counting isn't possible they have to use relative amounts and use a scale for feedback. This is too difficult for most of us. We rarely loose weight and maintain the target number for more than a year or two. The upshot of this is the diet industry doesn't work for most people. It is relatively easy to lose weight but most will gain it (and more) back. The average Weight Watchers client has been with them for about a decade and has been through somewhat more than four cycles.
About 80% of the energy an average body uses just goes into keeping you alive and warm. Physical activity adds very little and you have to do a large amount to lose weight - basically you probably can't outrun your fork.3
Exercise for health. Eat for health and manage how you eat to regulate your weight.
You don't need a smartwatch to be healthy. If it encourages you to exercise and walk around a bit during sedentary activity it may be worth the price of admission, but you can get there via other methods. The functionality is part of the watch so having it isn't a loss - just remember where it is and isn't useful.
What excites me is its potential as an always-worn data collection device. The Apple WATCH has a good accelerometer and heart rate meter - as good as or better than any of the fitness bands and it will probably get better given its computational power. It can network with other measurement devices you wear or interact with and create a rich profile. Very little or any of this will link first to the cloud. It will be stored on the watch and processed on your phone.4 At that point you may share it with a doctor or medical researcher. I know of several interesting devices under development and I'm not privy to much.
1 Power meters measure the power you are delivering to the machine in watts in real time. Output measurements are extremely useful for training and in competition - a good bicycle power meter costs about $2,000 and is a requirement for cycling competition these days.
Some pro grade exercise equipment have ergometers and it is possible to build and calibrate one - I've done that with my rowing machine. It is great for feedback on how I'm doing physically - and essentially useless for how much food I'm burning.
2 Researchers are still working this out. It appears being 10 to 15% overweight for several months - perhaps a half year - is sufficient to break do this.
3 Serious athletes can, but this is extremely unusual - we're talking 6 or more hours a day of very heavy physical activity.
4 It is far too expensive in terms of energy to keep an array of sensors directly connected to the cloud. Preprocessing the data locally is much more efficient.
We're not quite into fresh Spring peas. If you can't get same day peas go for high quality flash frozen peas. Peas loose their flavor very quickly - good flash frozen are usually better than day old fresh picked. I made this with frozen peas in preparation for the real thing. It was awfully good and worth repeating.
° 6 cups vegetable stock
° 3 cups fresh peas (shelled)
° 1-1/2 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
° 3 tbl olive oil and more for garnish
° sea salt and ground black pepper
° 1/4 cup of mint roughly chopped and stems removed
° juice of a 1/2 lemon (I had a very small lemon)
° 1/4 cup crème fraîche
° Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat
° Combine the peas, garlic, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a sauté pan over medium heat and cover the peas with a bit of stock
° Braise the peas at a simmer until nearly tender. Add most of the mint to the peans and simmer another minute 'till the peas are just tender. Season with salt and pepper
° Transfer pea mixture to a food processor and purée. Add stock and thin to desired level blending as you go. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice as needed.
° Divide into bowls and garnish with remain mint leaves, a good drizzle of olive oil and a tbl or so of cremé fraîche.