Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Quantify Thyself

By Tim Olds

Fitness devices that track our daily activity are now common, but do they live up to the hype?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Were there a modern version of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, we might find inscribed on the stones there the aphorism

“Quantify thyself”. The Quantified Self movement enjoins us to enlighten ourselves by wearing unobtrusive electronic sensors to track our movements, moods, diet and environment 24/7. Think FitBit, Fuelband, Shine, ActiHeart, Striiv, Zip, Actiwatch, Lumos, Vivofit, Jawbone, Polar, Digiwalker, SenseWear, Actical, GeneActiv, Actigraph, ActivPAL, Pulse … and now the iWatch.

The ideal of the Quantified Self works like this:

  1. strap on your activity tracker;
  2. download your data to the Cloud;
  3. the Cloud analyses and interprets it;
  4. analysed data are fed back to you or your health provider, who …
  5. … advises you on how to change your behaviour to optimise your health; then
  6. repeat.

Some devices claim to be able to measure the amount of exercise you do, how many steps you take, your posture, how well you sleep, how much time you spend sitting down and how many calories you burn. They generally cost between $50 and $250.

Almost all of these devices contain an accelerometer, which measures acceleration of the body part to which the device is connected, plus the acceleration of the whole body (and any vehicle it’s in). Nowadays, most devices use tri-axial accelerometry to measure...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.