Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heart rate

I've now had my lap-band for 6.5 years, during which time I've lost 85 pounds, interspersed with two pregnancies and two sets of lost baby weight (so total pounds lost is actually WELL over 85, but alas, the baby weight doesn't count in the total). During that time I've also developed a lot of opinions about attitudes and language and self-image related to weight loss and concepts of health and fitness. At some point I will try to articulate all that stuff in a blog post. At this particular moment I will say that, counter-intuitive as it sounds, having the band has actually enabled me to care LESS about my weight, not just because it's lower and therefore a less pressing concern but because it's done wonders for my mental state.

That's really a topic for another post, but I started with it because it's a segue into the very specific niche thing I want to talk about recently, which is my obsession with heart rate as a measure of fitness. The reason this relates is that it used to be that I worked out to lose weight. And that was extremely frustrating, because I actually haven't noticed a major correlation, at least in myself, between frequency and intensity of workouts and rate of weight loss. For me, diet is the much more influential component of weight loss. So, if I'm working out to lose weight and I don't see an impact, I lose my motivation very quickly, and before I know it, weeks have gone by and I haven't worked out. Not good.

But! For a long time now, I've been able to separate working out and weight loss in my head, and it has been a huge mental bonus for me. I work out because it's good for me. It improves my fitness level, it's good for my heart, it makes me feel better physically and mentally. It's just a good thing, even if it doesn't result in any weight loss.

(This isn't to say that I am perfect about working out... various shifts in our lifestyle like babies, job changes, childcare changes, etc. have had their impact over the years and so how often I work out really depends on where we are currently, but recently I've been able to get back into it more and that's been great--though I know there will be more periods of less frequent working out in the future.)

Anyway! The point is, in lieu of weight loss as my benchmark of effectiveness, I look to heart rate. I always wear a heart rate belt when I work out, so I can see my real-time heart rate on the machine and adjust the intensity of my workout to keep it in my target zone (120s-130s, typically). Awhile back, Torsten got me a watch that communicated with my heart rate belt so that I could see my heart rate while doing exercise not on a gym machine, primarily bike riding.

I LOVE being able to track my heart rate. First of all, it's data, and I'm sort of obsessed with data, so it suits my personality. But second, I find it incredibly motivating, because I see tangible improvements and I see them very quickly. I have to work SO MUCH HARDER now to get my heart rate into the target zone. When I first started working out, my heart rate shot into the target zone basically immediately. I recall, years ago, plodding along on the adaptive motion trainer (my gym machine of choice) with the resistance and incline on the lowest setting, having to force myself to basically walk interspersed with bursts of short jogging to keep my heart rate from flying into the 160s. Now, I usually do interval training with the incline on 3 out of 5 and the resistance ranging from 13 to 19 out of 20, and I still have to push pretty hard to get my heart rate into the 130s. It's such a huge difference. And! When I go without working out for a few weeks, I can see that my heart rate goes up faster, but! The flip side is that just a couple of workouts and I can already see it improving.

It is so SATISFYING, is what I'm saying. You can SEE your heart getting healthier and your body getting fitter as a result of your efforts! IT is SO MUCH MORE GRATIFYING than measuring results based on weight loss.

And now! I've been using a combination of iPhone apps (primarily MyFitnessPal for nutrition tracking and Pacer and MapMyRide for steps/activity tracking) as my fitness tools. Torsten tried out a FitBit a few years back and didn't love it, primarily because at the time it was wildly inaccurate, so he returned it, and since then neither of us has really thought about getting one. However, Torsten noticed recently that there's a new FitBit out, the Charge HR, that tracks... you guessed it! Heart rate! So, good man that he is, he got me one (AND it's purple).

I've only had it for a day, so I'll report back, but so far I LOVE it. It's so cool! And it's really accurate! And it has a great iPhone app, or an online dashboard if you want to be a Luddite using a regular computer. It tracks your heart rate and it can tell whether it's resting or active, and buckets those things separately so you can track them differently. It tracks the steps you take in a day and how many flights of stairs you climb and how far you travel and how many active minutes. It also tracks your sleep, which is so so cool, and it lets you track exercise, start a food plan, monitor calories, and track water consumption, too. So basically, it's everything that I've been managing across multiple apps, all rolled into one and conveniently synced with the FitBit itself.

I am so, so pleased. And also, I think I may now have a new obsession... now that I don't have to wear a heart rate belt to see my heart rate, and I have essentially continuous monitoring via wrist, I can start focusing on changes in my resting heart rate over time. Fitness, ahoy!

Sorry, I'm a geek. But seriously. It's purple, it streamlines activities that I was already doing, AND it tells me my heart rate ALL THE TIME. It was MADE for me. I am so happy.


  1. Want to be Fitbit friends? Send me the email that you used to sign up and I will add you! :-)

  2. I too love non-weight-related exercise motivations. I felt tricked by the weight-loss/exercise correlations, because it wasn't happening for me; and like you, I got discouraged. Now I get discouraged when people assume that because I'm big, I don't exercise.

  3. This is why I find Orange Theory so appealing as well! Instant feedback! Data! Heart rate tracking! Slick looking app!

    However, they have (sneakily / wisely) made their HR monitor only work at their gyms, so I can't track my HR outside of class using their band. POOP.

  4. I love that FitBit syncs with My Fitness Pal. The two work together wonderfully.

    I've lost about 60 pounds through diet and exercise. Diet is the primary factor in losing weight, while exercise is what's helping me maintain this loss for almost 2 years now.

  5. I love my fitbit. I got it for Christmas in 2012 and wore it every day until I got pregnant and there wasn't any space for it any longer on my body. It's a great motivator for me too, especially year over year data (how active was I this time last year? etc). Yay body data!

  6. I'm gonna have to look into these! Like you, I find diet is much more influential in my weight loss efforts, so I have to think of working out as a separate issue. Also, my exercise of choice is yoga, and I've only ever tracked heart rate on cardio machines. But I love me some data! I'd be interested to see what my heart rate is like during yoga.

  7. This blog post inspired me to ask for a fitbit charge hr for Christmas. My lovely husband got me one and I love it!! It's such a motivator. I love the challenges- they push me to walk more than I ever thought I could.

    Anyhow, this evening I was looking over my heart rate data and it's astounding how much my heart rates (every one of the various measures) have improved. In just a month and a half!

    I just wanted to come back and say thank you for planting this idea. It is going to change my life. :)