Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Week #29: Activate Your Activity

This week marked the official launch in Southern California (and Boston and Chicago) of ActiveLink - our new activity monitor. It paired up nicely with the topic of the week, which was managing your environment to make activity easier.

I thought I'd share my experience so far with the device. I know that buying a new gadget for $39.95 with a $5 per month fee isn't something that everyone will be in a hurry to do. Some of you will want more feedback, know how it really works, what the benefits are. And so I will attempt to do that here. You should know up-front that as an employee of Weight Watchers, I received the device at no cost to me, and do not have to pay the $5 monthly fee.


ActiveLink is super easy to set up. You'll plug it in to a USB port on your computer, and you will download some software. My device was essentially fully charged when I pulled it out of the box, so by the time I'd downloaded the software and given it my information, it was charged and ready to wear. An eTools account is required to get your ActiveLink set-up, because the device needs to know your age, height, weight & gender so that it can ultimately perform the calculation of how many Activity PointsPlus values you earn every day. It also will drop those values you've earned right into your eTools tracker so they are available for swapping.

Assessment Period

The first 8 days you wear this device is the Assessment Period. Your goal during this time is to go about your daily business while remembering to wear the device. Do not attempt to increase or decrease the amount of activity you do. You want the ActiveLink to get a good feel for what your typical life is like. You should wear the device as much as possible, whether you're exercising, running errands, or just sitting on the couch. You can wear the device when you sleep, but since you aren't moving, there's nothing for it to pick up. You could also wear it in the shower (it's waterproof!) but really? Are you that obsessed? (Don't answer that question!)

I was so excited to receive my device and get started, I began my assessment the day before I left for a weekend away in San Francisco. My assessment period was most definitely not a typical week for me, but since I received this device on June 26th and here we are launching it July 15th, I'm glad I did, so that I could get real life experience with it before I had to pitch it in a meeting. My time in San Francisco involved a lot more walking around throughout the day than usual, but also didn't involve any structured workouts. When all is said and done, it could have been a wash. I may choose to do another Assessment at some point in the future, on a week that is more "typical."

During the assessment you don't get much feedback from ActiveLink. It's collecting data on you. You plug it into your computer regularly (say once a day, although if you miss a day, no big thing) to synchronize the information. You don't really get any feedback, and during this time you will need to manually calculate any Activity PointsPlus values you earn because the device isn't ready to do it for you yet. If you track via eTools, you won't be able to track activity in your tracker online during this time, so be prepared to track on paper until the assessment is over.

The Challenge

When the assessment ends, and you've synchronized your device, you'll learn on average how many Activity PointsPlus values you earned per day over the last week. You'll be prompted to answer a few questions about your activity habits, and you'll be presented with a challenge. It appears that whatever your actual average value earned was during the assessment, your challenge will bump that up by two. So for example, if your assessment showed you earned an average of 2 APPV per day, you'll have 12 weeks to increase that to 4 APPV per day.

This is when the fun starts. The lights on the ActiveLink will start giving you feedback on how close you are to your goal. One light = 25%, two lights = 50% and so on. When you plug ActiveLink into your computer, your movement information will show up on the screen represented by varying shades of green bars. The higher and darker the bar, the more you moved. You can look at this information by day, week, even hour and minute! This will help you spot those idle times in your day.

I am an exercise nut, but I also have a full-time job that involves sitting in front of a computer. So it was interesting to see those tall green bars for an hour while I was at the gym paired up to low green, even gray (no movement) bars representing time on my behind.

Activity Baseline

This is a new concept and frankly, probably one that I should leave for its own entry. Short story: Weight Watchers has always built into the program the assumption that we move a certain amount during the course of the day. The Activity PointsPlus values it allows us to earn are assumed to be on top of that. But the reality is that many of us don't move much throughout the day - technology these days doesn't require it of us! With this device, we can actually tell how much we are moving, and for many of us, we will realize that even by doing a dedicated workout, we might not be getting that "standard amount of activity" that was always assumed.

So here's a warning: you may find out you're not earning as much as you thought. Tough to swallow, but think of it this way - technology is now allowing you to get better information. And that better information might help speed up your rate of weight loss. To me, that's worth it!

But What About Those Other Devices?

ActiveLink isn't the only activity monitor on the planet. There are other companies putting out similar devices, there are GPS watches, heart rate monitors and pedometers. Here is how I think ActiveLink compares:

vs. a GPS Watch/Pedometer

ActiveLink won't tell you how far you've gone, how many steps you've taken or how fast you went there. If that kind of thing is important to you, you won't get it here. It will track your movement in 3 directions - front/back, side/side, up/down. Distance covered isn't the only kind of movement out there! But if you're an avid walker/runner who is keeping a mileage or step log, you'll want to keep whatever tool you've got for that.

vs. a Heart Rate Monitor

ActiveLink doesn't keep track of your heart rate, and it also won't tell you how many calories you've burned. I find that kind of information informative and helpful in managing how hard my workout is, so I continue to wear my HRM strap & watch in addition to my ActiveLink.

vs. Other Activity Monitors

You may have heard of Fitbit or Bodybugg, and it's even possible to buy a monitor from the same company who makes ActiveLink (it's called Direct Life). The cost of those devices varies - but they are typically priced $99 and above. Some devices have a monthly subscription fee and others don't.

ActiveLink has a lower entry cost, in that the device will only set you back $39.95. Some of the costlier devices do keep track of more data. Some will analyze your sleep, many track your calories burned. Fancier devices come with a fancier price tag.

The biggest upside to me (as someone who on many occasions was ready to pull the trigger on ordering a Fitbit) is that it integrates with eTools. It calculates your Activity PointsPlus values. So many people out there use devices that calculate calories burned, and then want to know what the APPV equivalent is of that calorie burn, and you just can't do it. (Oh, I know, you can create some rules of thumb, but it's never been an actual part of the Weight Watchers plan to do that.) This device tells you exactly what you've earned, in a language that doesn't need translation. Bottom line, if I were a member paying for meetings, and I was considering a device, that feature would probably have been the thing that would have sold me.

So, have you picked up an ActiveLink yet? I'd love to hear your feedback....


WWLeaderStephanie said...

AWESOME review!!! I might have to "borrow" when we get to launch in Ohio! You have NO IDEA how hard it's been to NOT say anything about it during my meetings this week. The topic is soooooo perfect!! I've dropped "hints" without saying anything about a device. I've just said that I've recently learned that ALL movement counts and that I've found ways to increase my movement! :-)

Outsmart the Fat! said...

Thanks! I know for sure this is a device that people will want to hear stories about. And although I'm resting my ankle/leg these past few days, I am determined to really put in place things that will get me out of my chair more often during the day.

Danielle Patenaude-Dumont said...

Thanks for this review. I just bought my AL yesterday and started my assessment last night. I'm also wearing my HRM and AL at the same time. I'm wondering, do you wear your HRM all day? I'm curious because I'd like to compare the Activity Points given by the HRM versus the Active Link once the assessment is over.

Outsmart the Fat! said...

I don't wear my HRM all day. I've considered doing that for a day to see how many calories I burn for a total day, but just haven't gotten around to it.

HCGer said...

I am really excited to purchase this device. Sadly, I just lost my pedometer today. It fell off while i was trying on a pair of pants in the department store. Do you think I can get away with just purchasing the ActiveLink and not worry about the pedometer? I honestly don't care how many steps I've taken, I just want to know how many more extra points I've earned for the day. I've reached Maintenance as of last week. I feel naked without my pedometer. I'm so mad I lost it.

PatrickSF said...

Hi - I found your blog through the WW SF/Bay area Facebook page. I just started my assessment today but I had a question I thought you may be able to answer.

I'm a pretty active runner – about 30 miles a week – and I use a HRM to track my calories and convert these to APs. Does AL give you the ability to make any manual adjustments to your APs based on activity that you measure with your HRM? Also, once my assessment is over, will the online tracker allow me to enter my manually calculated APs for this past week? (It's going to be hard keeping track of my APs on paper this week because I rely on seeing them in my online tracker, and use most of them that I earn!)

Outsmart the Fat! said...

The ActiveLink doesn't allow for any editing of APPVs on eTools, unfortunately. So if you would assess yourself a different number of APPV than the ActiveLink will (which is possible, because I've done the same, since I always felt the "running" item in the eTools database rated it WAY TOO HIGH), you'll have to find some workaround to keep accurate track.

Right now I'm not using eTools to track, so it hasn't been a huge deal for me. But I know when I look at the amount I earn either in eTools or the ActiveLink website, I wouldn't feel comfortable swapping all of them for food. (For example, I ran 10 miles on Saturday, and when all was said and done, ActiveLink gave me 18 APPV!)

Good luck!

PatrickSF said...

Thanks for the info. I've always felt more comfortable calculating my own APs with the HRM, but I'm interested in seeing what AL says about my non-dedicated exercise activity. During the assessment week, I'm going to "track" my APs my old way in the "notes" section of the online tracker, just so I can compare the two when it's all done. Then I figure I'll do both for a while and see how the calculations compare.

I've been on maintenance since January and usually use all of my APs, so I'm thinking I may be a bit conservative in my own calculations.

Thanks, again.

PatrickSF said...

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up on my first week+ with ActiveLink –

I'm finding that it gives me many more APs than I've been calculating for myself using my HRM (and even the old WW way with time and intensity). For example, last week I calculated about 62APs for running, biking and strength training and the ActiveLink gave me 110!

Today I also tried an experiment where I waited unit I got to my baseline for the day (and hadn't earned any APs) and then went for my standard 7 mile run. My HRM calculations always give me 10-11 APs for this run, the old WW calculator would give me 11, but the ActiveLink gave me 15!

It's possible I've been underestimating my APs all this time, but the difference is larger than I assumed it would be.

I really like the simplicity of the ActiveLink and the way it integrates with the online tracker, so I'm planning to keep on experimenting to figure out how many of the APs it calculates for me I can consume without gaining. But I'm still planning on using my HRM to log mileage, pace and all the rest of the stats that keep me going...

Outsmart the Fat! said...

I feel like with activity, it's better to be conservative, particularly if you're going to allow yourself to swap any of those PPV for food! I like your approach, thanks for following up!