10,000 steps to better health

Paul Graham summa­rized a core tenet of internet entre­pre­neur­ship simply: “You make what you measure.” 1

There’s something magical about putting a number somewhere you can see it every day, whether that number repre­sents daily profit, new customers, or something else. Suddenly one wants to improve, especially when the metric is paired with a pretty graph showing one’s improve­ment over time. It becomes a game, and everyone loves a good game.

I’ve employed this tactic at nearly every company I’ve started or worked at, measuring as much as I can—then choosing key metrics to create a company-wide dashboard that I could look at every day. It’s remark­ably simple and effective.

I got sick a few weeks ago and spent too much time in bed, lazily wandering the Inter­net, where I ran across a compelling video about the benefits of 30 minutes of activity a day. The kicker, if you don’t have a few minutes to watch it: 30 minutes a day of pretty much any exercise—walking includ­ed—has been shown to offer dramatic health improve­ments, in mood, sleep, heart health, and more.

I was convinced, and wanted to take action. A computer program­mer’s life is neces­sarily seden­tary, and I wanted to counteract the negative effects of too much inactiv­ity. So I bought something that had been on my wish list for awhile, the Fitbit Ultra.

Fitbit is a small, wearable device that provides dead-simple measure­ments of your physical activ­ity. It measures the number of steps you’ve taken, floors climbed, distance traveled, and calories burned. Fitbit also functions as a basic sleep track­er—when worn on your wrist at night, it measures general sleep patterns, including the number of times you awoke during the night.

After carrying the Fitbit around in my pocket for two weeks, I can uncon­di­tion­ally recom­mend it to anyone looking to improve their health. It’s been fasci­nating to see my physical activity throughout the day—

fitbit activity

and my patterns of sleep at night—

fitbit sleep

Counting the flights of stairs I’ve climbed each day has already encour­aged me to skip the elevator more often at home. I often find myself taking longer routes while walking, or walking instead of taking the subway.

It really works.

That said, the device isn’t perfect. Right now it must have an optimistic idea of my stride, because its distance measures (and hence calories burned) are off by a fair amount. I’ve been meaning to measure my stride accurately but it’s diffi­cult to do when you live in a tiny apartment.

Also, while the Fitbit can measure exercise like running and ellip­tical machines easily, it can’t measure activity that won’t trigger its pedome­ter, like swimming or using a stationary bike. Fortu­nately, the website lets you log your exercise and can compute calories burned for you.

It’s too early to say whether I’ll be as enamored with the Fitbit in a few months as I am right now, but so far the entre­pre­neur’s maxim has held true: you make what you measure.

If you’re trying to live health­ier, try getting a Fitbit.

1 Source: Startups in 13 Sentences