I’ve had my Microsoft Band 2 for roughly 3 months. I use it within Microsoft’s ecosystem (yeah, I drank the Kool-Aid). I have Windows 10 on my PC and Surface as well as Windows 10 mobile on my Lumia 950 phone. (All that I indicate in this post will also hold for those using the Band with iOS (Apple) or Android except the Cortana integration isn’t as good). During this time, I went from walking as my main form of exercise to walking, running and various strength and toning exercises. I also lost about 25 pounds. What role did the Band have in helping to improve my fitness so far? It’s been instrumental in providing data and helping to analyze that data. (Here‘s some notes on my experience with Microsoft’s fabulous support of the Band)
Courtesy of thedigitallifestyle.com
To understand this picture, we’ll need to go back a little bit. I have a yearly health assessment that dives into a lot of health indicators including blood pressure, BMI, and various blood tests to look at cholesterol etc. Last year, I started walking on a regular basis but made no other changes to my behavior related to health. I used a step-counter. Most of that time it was a Fitlinxx Pebble+ and shared my progress with others on http://meyouhealth.com/. This was helpful to see my progress, give me some daily goals and to have some shared encouragement from others using the site. As the year progressed, I switched over to a Fitbit Flex that my daughter was no longer using. I ate pretty much whatever I wanted and my sleep was less than optimal. As a result of that year walking, all my health indicators at my yearly assessment improved slightly. So, I began to wonder, what it would look like if I took a more active role with my diet and sleep? In particular, what would be the impact if I knocked out the junk and reduced portions in eating while making more of an effort to get a reasonable amount of sleep? So, my plan was simply to change my eating and sleep a bit.
Courtesy of Microsoftstore.com
On my additional quest to eat better and sleep better, I saw some limitations with simply using a step-counter with some additional function). Flex can give you some feedback on sleep and provides a way to enter data related to what you eat in related application. There just wasn’t enough feedback and tracking the food I eat was never been something that enticed me. The Microsoft Band 2 went on sale with the siren song of more more information and a bit of a productivity boost. I thought I would give it a shot.
What a difference it made. Part of that difference is the Microsoft health app and the related website http://dashboard.Microsofthealth.com. I started tracking daily weight. Over the next couple weeks, I could start seeing a pattern in the data that walking was not having the same impact on my health as it did when I started. Based on my heart rate and other indicators, I could see that the sessions of walking that used to improve my fitness or at least maintaining it, now they were simply denoted as having light impact. I had become fit enough through the walking that, short of serious speed walking, I had reached a plateau. I could not get my heart rate up enough to have a serious impact on improving my health simply by walking any longer. I don’t think I would’ve come to that conclusion without the data that Microsoft Band 2 provided. So, if somebody were to talk to me about a fitness device, I would say opt for one that has at least an optical heart rate monitor.
Courtesy of Microsoft.com
Based on that feedback, I changed my program to begin to run. I say “begin” because I actually used what Microsoft calls a guided workout. This is a workout that you can load down to the Band and it will take each step vibrate on your rest and give you text related to what you should be doing. I used it to start with a run-walk workout. Now, this was designed to be a minute of walking then 2 minutes of running for 30 mins. After the first part of the first session, I did 1 minute of running and 2 minutes of walking. Within two weeks I switched it up to the normal program. Within a few weeks, however, I was forced to focus more on fitness in the gym and less on running due to challenges pounding pavement brought to my legs. During this whole period, I have been losing roughly a couple pounds a week and was now down 20 Ibs (or 1.5 stone to my friends in the UK). For me, the guided workouts are a godsend because it takes all of the temptation to be guided by how I feel at the moment and simply gives me the next step to do.
So far, I haven’t given any deep technical review of Microsoft Band 2 over other fitness devices that can monitor heart rate, sleep and have some mechanism for providing a guided workout while providing productivity apps. Nor will I do so. There aren’t a ton of those devices and they all have their quirks. For me, it’s a really good combination of a productivity tool, with phone, text, email, and calendar notifications with built-in Cortana (digital personal assistant) integration, and its primary role as a fitness device. The Apple Watch seems more productivity and less fitness focused and most of the Fitbit products seem more fitness and less productivity focused. I like that Microsoft continues to develop new applications such as Explore which provides great information for hiking such as longitude/latitude coordinates, compass heading, trekking rate of climb and providing a picture of the climate and terrain if you have GPS on. Is it perfect? No. The GPS doesn’t always acquire the signal and sometimes takes longer than it should to do so. Cortana just recently became fully functional with a fix for Microsoft. For me, it is the right combination.
So what have I learned so far?
- Real data is key. Whether it’s heart rate, weight, how good my sleep is, or improvement on split times, getting detailed, solid data is foundational for making good choices about what you do next. In my case, I would still just be walking had I not gotten feedback that it wasn’t really doing that much for me. I love being able to track my improvement and the Health app provides feedback on personal bests.
- Clearly, fitness devices won’t make you fit or healthy. They only provide you information for you to use. That information, however, can make all the difference. I make a marginally better effort to getting reasonable sleep knowing that my Band will tell me how poorly I did if I don’t improve.
- Sometimes the data surprising and sometimes it’s not. It’s always helpful.
- As all the literature and everyone will tell you, this is a life journey. I’m just barely into it and there will come a time, I hope, I’m maintaining weight rather than losing it, but there will never be a time where I don’t have to pay attention. Whether that’s to my sleep, what I eat or whether I workout that day.
- Even with all the great downloadable workouts, tons of information on the web and pressure to measure up, chill. Seriously, it’s you, your body and your pace. If I felt obligated to do my first run-walk as designed, I may have given up. Take your time. It’s not a diet, it’s not a phase, it’s a life change. It’s all about improvement and personal bests. Don’t worry about others or expectations.
- There are always options. If running is not working for you, and in my case the high impact nature of it is too much for me, find something else. I’m now working on ellipticals and rowing machines as well as strength exercises to tone muscle.
- Change up your workout as your fitness changes. While starting to just reduce eating and sleep more, based on the information I received, I changed my workout to run. Based on the weight loss, I started strength training to reduce muscle loss and keep up metabolism. Be flexible (literally and figuratively) with your workout.
- There are challenges with losing weight. The above-referenced need to tone muscle is one of them. You lose muscle mass along with fat. I’ve seen sag where I’ve never seen sag before, hence the toning. You also have the challenge of your wardrobe, especially in transition. Nothing is gonna fit perfectly for a while. The upsides clearly outweigh these few challenges, but it’s good to remember that there are challenges.
So, we can talk about the Band’s 11 sensors, improved ergonomic design, or its less than stellar battery life. All of those are interesting points. Ultimately, however, it’s a tool to help you be more productive and become fitter. Your mileage may (and likely will) differ. It’s been an effective tool for me.