Thursday, November 12, 2015

Director's Cut

This is basically the long form of the 5 minute squirt I plan to give at the next DC Hack & Tell. The premise of my core dump is that getting enough motivation to exercise is easy for some people (because they are genetic freaks, no I'm not bitter) and harder for other people. I fall in the harder catagory.

Unfortunately, I'm not making this up. For the more medically inclined take a look at this article from the the Journal of Physiology "Nucleus accumbens neuronal maturation differences in young rats bred for low versus high voluntary running behavior". If you would like it translated in to normal human check out the the New York Times Blog version. My take in a nut shell is that for the genetic freaks they get a nice fat dopamine squirt when they exercise so they have a built in reward system and they get the added bonus of improved physical health.

So what are the recipients of the "low voluntary running behavior" gene to do? Hack your brain! Trick your brain into giving you some dopamine goodies! There are a wealth of articles describing how you might go about doing this. One woman described her restriction that she could only read (one of her passions) while she was on the treadmill. So naturally her routine evolved into linking the act of running on the treadmill with the pleasure of reading: brain fooled! Other suggestions were to listen to your favorite podcasts (I love the Moth!) while you pound the pavement, only watch your favorite Netflix guilty pleasure (The Walking Dead) after you have hit the gym. You get the idea.

For me the answer was data! I'm an engineer. I love crunching numbers. Also the gameification of an activity can lead to the all important dopamine squirt. So to get data out of fitness, I needed a fitness tracker! It sounded perfect. The promise of of an API, metrics, easy web interface. It was a dream come true. OK so it wasn't that great. The API was pretty limited. I could get summary information about every 15 minutes. Really?!? It was pretty good though. I was shocked on those days that I walked to my car, drove to work, sat at my desk all day, and then got home and found out I barely cracked 3000 steps. (The recommended daily step count according to FitBit is 10000). There were many a night that I was pacing back and forth in my bedroom trying to break a threshold for the day. I just want to make it to 7000! (Can you hear the dopamine dripping?)

So things were moving along pretty well. I connected with a cousin and we had a friendly step count competition going on. (I though I was going to murder him when I went to the Big Easy for Christmas and walked everywhere! Turns out he went to Toronto or was it Montreal ?!? and edged me out by ~1000 steps! grrrr!) But then tragedy struck ...

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