Lifelogging Physical Activity and Sleep with the Bodymedia Armband

I was excited to discover the folks from Bodymedia who had a booth at the GDGT event at SXSW this year. In my coverage of devices used for Lifelogging, I continue to look for new gadgets in this arena. On the surface the Bodymedia armband sounded very similar to Fitbit in that it offers the ability to track physical activity and sleep. I’ve been testing one for a few weeks [Disclosure: Bodymedia sent me one] and being familiar with the Fitbit I was curious as to the differences compared to it. I asked the representative at the booth when I first saw it and they told me that main difference is that Bodymedia has sensors that allow it to measure several additional metrics. By visiting their website you can learn about what the sensors measure which include skin temperature, galvanic skin response, and heat flux which they state provide more accuracy and detailed picture than what a pedometer can provide. They also offer more details as to how Bodymedia differs from pedometers, accelerometers, and heart rate monitors as well.

Bodymedia is a device that bills itself primarily as a “weight management system” or device to help you lose weight. Beyond tracking just physical activity and sleep you can use their system to track calories consumed (manually) and it also can track calories burned and calculate your calorie balance daily against the goals you have setup within the system. I didn’t track that information as I was primarily interested in simply tracking my physical activity and sleep.  However during the course of testing I discovered this interesting iPhone app called Meal Snap which allows you to take photos of food and have calorie count calculated from it. I may have to try this as the process of manually tracking calories is what prevents me from wanting to do it.

So I wore the device for 2 weeks straight. Wearing it was pretty comfortable. I was concerned that having it on basically 24/7 might become bothersome but it really wasn’t too bad. You just have to make sure to adjust the band to a comfort level depending on your current activity. For instance I’ll have it on a little tighter when I’m working out versus when I’m going to sleep. The battery lasts for a very long time, I never had it at a low level primarily because I was eagerly plugging it into my computer every day to upload the data collected. Publishing the data to the site is seamless after installing the software and creating an account on their website. They then import the data to provide some interesting activity charts.

For physical activity they provide 2 levels of tracking which include moderate activity and vigorous activity. For sleep they provide duration that is then broken down by lying down versus actual sleep to calculate your sleep efficiency. The graphs allow you to mouse over them to get more details as to the amount of time spent for each of the 2 levels that are tracked. Beyond the graphs they also keep a tally of special achievements based on your activity. This includes notifications for personal best scores by date and metrics for activity levels, calories burned, and sleep efficiency. You can so choose to brag about these achievements from the handy Facebook integration built into the service. They also offer a free iPhone and Android app so you can take your activity graphs with you on the go.

After using the device for a few days and uploading data I liked the interesting insights it offered. By providing a method of tracking your physical activity based on 2 levels of endurance, it sets a bar so that you can continually determine if your workouts are achieving the perceived goals you are expecting. In an attempt to make sure that I’m always maintaining or trying to exceed my previous activity levels it actually provides a strong motivation to work out hard so that I can quantify it when I import the data to my computer. I also found myself trying to work out harder to try and best my top achievements for each category. The device has aligned itself as a way to lose weight but I feel that’s limiting some of the larger benefits that it offers which is a motivational tool for working out and almost gamifying the experience. I’d actually like to see some more emphasis put towards offering features along those lines. I also wish they offered some more details around the data collected to educate me about it. For instance they state that moderate activity is 3-6 METs and vigorous activity is 6+ METs but they don’t offer any more details regarding this. It would be great to offer some helpful information to explain this to users. I also wouldn’t mind seeing more granular breakdowns of data. Same goes for the sleeping data.

When it comes to trying to incorporate these tracking devices into your life there are several considerations I think you need to make. A big one in my mind is those that can combine multiple features so to make the tracking as simple and ubiquitous as possible. For instance if you wanted to track activity and sleep you can also use two separate devices such as Runkeeper and Zeo but those require 2 separate interfaces as well as services to track the data whereas having one device to track both in a single service and interface may be more desirable. I find that attractive about the Bodymedia armband but of course then you may have to make a trade-off on features or determine if the data / value of one device offers more important tracking information to justify using separate devices. It’s not an easy determination so you should look into this before choosing one or more of the ones out there.

Overall I think incorporating a device like the Bodymedia armband will offer you some good benefits towards your health and ability to actually measure the effectiveness of your physical activity and sleep by being able to track it over time. I also found it to be quite a motivational tool for me as well which was an added bonus I wasn’t expecting. I personally see these types of devices gaining quite a large adoption rate over the coming years as they continue to improve and as we continue to incorporate more personal data collection into our lives.

5 thoughts on “Lifelogging Physical Activity and Sleep with the Bodymedia Armband”

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  3. Hi Mark, great review! have been using Body Media myself, and find it very useful in tracking my fitness and physical activities. Once you get used to the dashboard, you can learn to get interesting insights and self-tracking (e.g., use average METs burned during the sleep as an equivalent of metabolism rate, or number of times you woke up during the night as another measure of sleep quality). I agree that they are behind on data integration, compared to other devices in this category (e.g., in my opinion, FitBit’s API is more friendly and data is more accessible to developers). So far in order to correlate BodyMedia data points with other external metrics, I have to export data from both sources and then merge them. It would be useful if they would allow us to import data from other sources (e.g., Runkeeper), or at least manually add it to the daily journal (just like they do with calories consumed estimates now)

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