Pull Quote:
What Billy Beane did to baseball, what day traders do to the NASDAQ, I want to do to
my body.

As I type these words, my heart rate hovers around 71. Iâ??m working on 7.4 hours of sleep, though only 1.2 hours of deep sleep. Iâ??ve taken 5,466 steps so far today. I have eaten about 1,250 calories. The traffic outside is 64 decibels. And since you asked, my testosterone level is 675.
For you, this may be the proverbial too much information.
But not for me. I crave maximum data about myself. I am a quantification fiend. What
Billy Beane did to baseball, what day traders do to the NASDAQ, I want to do to my body.
And not just out of idle curiosity. Studies show that keeping track of your bodyâ??s numbers makes you behave in healthier and more productive ways. The simplest example: the mere act of weighing yourself every day makes you lose pounds, according to a University of Michigan study. (Quantification is not risk-free, mind you. Data overload can also make you more depressed and distracted. More on that later.)
My love affair with self-tracking began in 2009, as I was writing a book about trying to become the healthiest person alive. After years of being embarrassingly out of shape (my body was â??skinny-fat,â? which means it resembled a snake that had swallowed a goat), I decided to revamp every nook and cranny of my physical life: exercise, diet, stress level, sleep pattern, sex life, you name it.
Turns out healthy behavior is surprisingly simple. I can sum it up in a couple of dozen words: eat whole foods, and not too much (hat tip to Michael Pollan). Move around and stop sitting all day. Sleep a lot. Donâ??t stress out. Donâ??t smoke.
Easy enough to say. But how do we motivate ourselves to do these things? One answer lies in self-tracking. (FYI, I just took a five-minute writing break and ate a plum; estimated calories: 30.)
My self-tracking started with a basic but powerful tool: the pedometer. I wanted to reach the doctor-recommended goal of 10,000 steps per day.
This walnut-sized gadget sparked a mini-revolution in my life. When I clipped it to my belt, it didnâ??t just spur me to move, though it certainly did that. It changed the way I thought about movement. What was once a chore became a game. Searching for my sonâ??s lost stuffed elephant normally meant a half hour of frustration and snarling. Instead, I focused on the fact that I notched 500 steps. Give me more missing stuffed animals! You got any keys I can look for? I donâ??t mind.
My wife got a pedometer as well, and we started a healthy competition: who could rack up the most steps? She was good. She marched in place while making coffee or talking on the phone. She also started taking quick, tiny, ballerina-sized steps. â??Iâ??ve got shorter legs than you,â? she explained. â??Iâ??ve got to play to my strengths.â?
My next terrain: sleep. I bought a gadget called the Zeo Sleep Manager, a $199 DIY version of a sleep clinic. Before turning in every night, you strap on a relatively unobtrusive headband. It measures your brain waves and figures out how long you slept and how well (the ratio of REM to light to deep sleep). Then the Zeoâ??s algorithm calculates your nightly grade, or ZQ.
What the pedometer did to my walking, the Zeo did to my sleepingâ??it turned it into a game. I got competitive with myself. My first ZQ score was 44 (terrible), but after a week, I got it up to 68 (not bad).
As I got deeper into self-tracking, I bought a gadget called the Fitbit. This is sort of like a pedometer on HGH (which, by the way, I did not take during my year). Resembling an oversized paper clip, the Fitbit is a motion-sensor device that clips to your waistband. It links to the Internet and keeps track of the calories you expend each day.
To help with the calculations, Fitbitâ??s website offers a list of activities along with the estimated calories burned by each per hour. A long list.
Vacuuming? Thatâ??s 246 calories per hour.
Shuffleboard? 211 calories.
Cooking Indian bread on an outside stove? Also 211 calories per hour.
Oh, you can also burn a bunch of calories in bed.
Sexual activity (passive, light effort, kissing, hugging): 70 calories per hour.
Sexual activity (general, moderate effort): 91 calories.
Sexual activity (active, vigorous effort): 105 calories.
I vowed to have more sex, but my wife and I agreed that general, moderate effort was good enough at our age.

At the end of each day you upload your Fitbit stats onto your computer, where you can slice and dice the data in dozens of ways. My favorite is the pie graph that displays your humiliating sedentary time as an ugly gray slice. I loved shrinking that gray slice as the weeks wore on.
Over the course of my project, I figured out myriad other ways to chart my own health. An app called MyFitnessPal has a database with the calorie counts of 1.5 million foods. A chest-strapped heart rate monitor is a key motivator for aerobic exercise. For the brave, thereâ??s a company called Withings that makes a scale that tweets your weight. I discovered that noise is an underestimated health hazard (it leads to stress, which leads to heart disease), so I bought a decibel meter to measure the loudness of my New York City life. (Itâ??s loud.)
And thatâ??s not to mention the low-tech quantification methods. For instance, I started to count my chews. The research says that your mom was right: we need to chew our food. The more you chew, the slower you eat, the more you control your portions. (The pro-chewing movement has dubbed itself Chewdaism, by the way.) I upped my count from a hasty 8 chews per mouthful to a respectable 15 chews.
In this essay, Iâ??ve painted a rosy picture of self-tracking, because my experience has been mostly positive (to quantify it, Iâ??d put it at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10). But I should mention there are potential downsides.
The gadgets break down. They can be expensive. It can be absurdly time-consuming to upload and analyze all the data. (Incidentally, you can buy time-tracking software that will tell you exactly how long you spend doing this.) And you can become too psychologically dependent on numbers.
But for me at least, the benefits outweigh the costs. Not having a pedometer or heart rate monitor feels to me like driving without a fuel gauge or speedometer: disconcerting.
By the way, this essay has taken 2 hours and 43 minutes to write. And I walked 3.1 miles while doing it, because I work on a treadmill desk. Now Iâ??m off to cook some Indian bread in an outdoor oven.