Month: May 2013

Reflections on my Second Week of the Proactive Medical Plan

Part of my proactive medical plan is going very well.  I have been very consistent about working out with the Kaiser fitness group and getting my blood pressure checked, although I’m still consistently at a blood pressure that is pre-hypertension, I am getting closer to being in the normal/good range.

I have also continued to track my diet well, and I think I’m eating less most days, than I have before, but tonight I went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant with my daughter for her birthday (she is the only other person in my immediate family who likes sushi), and I ate all I could, and thus I went about 1,000 calories over my target of 2,000 and so I’m sure that is going to hurt my weight loss progress.  But, I rarely do this type of thing any more, so it will likely be an “outlier” of a day, but since diet is cumulative, it doesn’t matter that it is an outlier, it will still have a potential long-term effect.   At least now, I’m starting to really understand that at more of a “gut level” (pun slightly intended).

I also will be able to track to see how this affects my weight, and that will probably help me make the more direct connection to help my will power over the next week.

Exporting my Wii Fit Data using ScraperWiki

I have been using Wii Fit Plus (Off and on) for several years, and thus it has some the best longitudinal data about my fitness (especially my weight).  I would like to export the data from the Wii and be able to analyze it in Excel.  Several people have worked on doing this, and one person started to put an easy to use converter on the web, but it looks like it has been taken down.   So, basically at this point, it looks like all the components exist, but that it will take a little coding to get them together for myself.

So given this fact,  I’m starting a new scraper on ScraperWiki that will ultimately extract My Wii Fit Plus Data, and allow others to extract their data also.  To create this scraper, I’m going to try and use the code from the wiifit project, along with other code.

My Thoughts about Digifit’s iCardio Android App

So far I’ve been overall very happy with Digifit’s iCardio app for Android.  I realized that it had the GPS feature I was looking for, so I didn’t need the JogTracker app.  I am especially impressed that its CSV export includes a large amount of data of snapshots of the workout session, so there is a lot of data to be able to analyze with a very fine granularity. I also like that the app has a Notes section for each workout, which allows the entry of some good qualitative information including a place to write notes, an overall rating of the workout (1 to 5 stars), the feeling of intensity of the workout (Easy, Moderate, Medium, Hard, or Intense),  mood during the workout (as a set of faces from frowning to very happy), and an icon to represent the weather.  I only wish that this qualitative info was also part of the CSV export.  The only other improvements that I think would be really useful are:

  1. To have integration with the Accupedo app, as the two apps complement each other very well.
  2. To connect with the Wii Balance Board to be able to measure weight

Thoughts about the Ability to Generalize Knowledge Gained Through Personal Science and Self-Experimentation

Critics of personal science and self-experimentation might try to argue that because personal science deals with a sample size of one, that there is no ability to generalize the results of experiments.  But, there is a fallacy in that logic.  While it is clear that experimenting on a single subject cannot prove that the same results will absolutely occur for others, by inferential statistics it does clearly show that there is a high probability that it could work for at least some other people.  Further, it should be noted that most health science and social science research also never shows that something will absolutely work for everyone, but instead shows a statistical probability that a result will occur. Using this concept of generalizing the result of personal science by determining the possibility that it may work for others should become part of most personal science research methodologies.

There is another vital area where personal science and self-experimentation can lead to generalization, and that is by having personal science being a component of traditional science.  Because, while an experiment on only a single subject may be able to show the possibility of the same results occurring with someone else, if a sufficient number of people follow similar methodologies in their self-experimentation, then the group of their results can be used with traditional scientific methods to determine a statistical likelihood of how the results might occur across a broader range of people.  This in effect becomes the crowd sourcing of science, which some are now calling “citizen science”.

This use of personal science may be especially valuable in the repetition of experimentation after initial professional scientific studies.  This is because there is a sociological bias towards having scientists wishing to do “groundbreaking” work of discovering new knowledge, but not as much desire to do the ongoing work of continuing to test initial results.  But, if the results of a professional scientific study shows something that may be beneficial to individuals, then there is a motivation for individuals who are aware of the results of the study to attempt to implement the results in their personal lives, and if a sufficient number of people do this in a sufficiently rigorous manner, this data can be used along with the initial research and follow-up research in a meta-analysis to create an improved statistical model.

Thus personal science has at least two major areas that it can help add to the general body of scientific knowledge, which in some ways are the “bookends” to professional science.  On one side, initial self-experimentation can show the possibility of results potentially occurring for others, which can spur a fuller study with more subjects to occur.  And on the other side, from the results of professional science, the crowd sourcing of personal science can help to improve the accuracy of knowledge derived through the professional studies.

Reflections Upon My First Week of My Proactive Medical Plan

I learned a lot this first week, with some successes and a few mistakes.  First, as I will also discuss in more detail in an upcoming post, I now have a deeper understanding of how my proactive medical plan can work with conducting personal science.   Specifically, I recognize that this month of work is not really sufficient in duration to state whether it has resulted in improvements that are likely to last.  But it is a month that can start the necessary habits, gain preliminary data, and test out methodologies on a small scale to “kick-start” a full year-long self-study.  I also believe that I will be able to use a methodology that is replicable, so that my data point could be combined with other people who choose to follow the same methodology so that each of our personal experiments can contribute a small portion to the collective knowledge about health and fitness.

This week has also been one where I have narrowed down what part of my health I am going to focus on measuring for the month.  My current “ongoing health conditions” as diagnosed by my doctor with Kaiser Permanente are obesity and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).  Both of these conditions have a correlation to potential heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.  Although there is a question of causality with body fat, as from what I understand, there is evidence to suggest that people who get fat removed via liposuction don’t necessarily have a lower risk of heart disease than they did before the procedure.  With high cholesterol, at least with LDL, there is more evidence to suggest a causality to heart disease.  I also previously was starting to have signs of having hypertension (high blood pressure), which also correlates to getting heart disease.

But, whether there is causality or not with these, the correlation is very strong, and I believe that it is highly likely that by improving my diet and getting more cardiovascular exercise that these will reduce my weight & body mass index along with lowering my LDL cholesterol and also improve my chances of not getting various forms of heart disease and/or other cardiovascular conditions.   I also want to work in the future on my strength and balance, but for this first month, while strength and balance exercises will be part of my activities, my major focus and rigorous measurements will all be about my cardiovascular health.

Regarding the implementation of my plan, I feel have been tracking my diet very well, although every day thus far I have gone above my target caloric intake.  I have found MyFitnessPal to be an excellent app to help track this, and its bar code scanner is very helpful, and I find it kind of fun to use.

I have also worked out every day this week, with 4 out of the 5 weekdays being with the Move to Thrive program with Kaiser, except Thursday when I worked out at California Family Fitness.  I will be measuring my exercise workout by looking at the total steps & estimated distance I’m going through the workout, and throughout the day, and also through measuring my heart rate during the workouts.

To measure my steps, I’m using the Accupedo pedometer app for my Android phone,  which seems to be the most accurate pedometer application, that works to have an algorithm that filters out “false positive” steps (for example if I am sitting in a chair, and move a little, Accupedo will generally not show that as a step, while most pedometers would.)

To measure my heart rate, I purchased a Scosche IPTM myTREK – Wireless Pulse Monitor, which while it has had mixed reviews on Amazon, it has won several awards, including Design and Engineering Showcase Honors at the 2011 Innovations International CES, being a Best of Show Finalist for 2011 with iLounge.com, being the Best of Show for 2011 at Macworld, and being the Future Tech Winner for Best Mobile Device with CES 2011.  It was also reasonably priced through Amazon.

Several reviewers said that the problem with the myTREK was the software it came with, and recommended Digifit instead, so I purchased Digifit iCardio, and it seems to be presenting results inline with other heart rate monitors I’ve used on the exercise equipment at the gym, and has some good tracking and exporting features.  It also has an excellent GPS system to track speed and distance of walking, etc.  Digifit iCardio also allows tracking of other self-quantifying information about the workouts (although it doesn’t appear to export this additional information right now.)

To measure the results of my work, I am measuring my weight (and thus deriving my body mass index) via several sources.  To see my historical weight/bmi, I’m using Kaiser’s data and also the data from a few old driver’s licenses that I have kept, including my first one from my 18th birthday.  I also am using the data from the Wii Balance board as entered into Wii Fit Plus, which I have been using off and on for a few years, and which I am now using on a nightly basis to record my activities (as fit credits), my weight, my balance, my waist size (every few days), and will be storing my pedometer entries. I am also getting my blood pressure screened daily through Kaiser, and I had that done every day this week.  I also plan to get a body fat test done with California Family Fitness, and will get my resting metabolic rate tested with Kaiser (see below about how I couldn’t get it done this week).   In addition, after my month of working on my diet and exercise, I think my doctor will let me take another Cholesterol test to see if there has been any effect with my hyperlipidemia.

My biggest mistake this week, was that I wasn’t able to get my Resting Metabolic Rate checked, because the morning I was to go in, I forgot not to take my wake-up caffeine pill (I will explain more about my daily caffeine, and how it has really improved my sleep schedule in a future post).  So since I took the caffeine pill, and even though it was 5 hours earlier from the appointment, and I had followed all the other guidelines, they felt I shouldn’t take the test then.   I rescheduled the test, but I really would have liked to have been able to get my results already.   I also didn’t get my myTREK until late in the week, and when I first was going to use it at one of the Move to Thrive chair exercise classes, I forgot to actually tell the Digifit software to start recording the data.

So, overall, a good first week of the proactive medical plan.  I am working on continuing my work on my diet over the weekends also, and may or may not do the additional exercise on the weekends.

Treating My Proactive Medical Appointments as my Job

I am now in my third day of my proactive medical plan, having completed another session of Move to Thrive and getting my blood pressure screened.  I feel that these proactive medical appointments along with the proactive medical appointments for health education through Kaiser are all a good  and legitimate use of my medical leave from Twin Rivers, given that I have current health problems of obesity and high cholesterol that can lead to a shortened life span, and I don’t have any direct classes to teach at the moment, while I wait for my lay-off to finish.  So  I would mostly be just twiddling my thumbs at work, not being productive to the tax-payers, if I wasn’t doing something.  Further, by using the medical leave now, it lowers my future CalSTRS retirement, thus reducing the tax burden slightly to the state.

But because I am using medical leave to complete my proactive medical plan, and I’m getting paid for the time I’m spending on doing the plan, I am treating it and getting results from it as my job, especially since from the teaching contract I can only use medical leave for either being sick or for medical appointments, if I missed a day of doing my preventative medical appointments, I would be out of compliance , and could jeopardize getting paid.  (This is especially concerning to me, as I know my use of medical leave for this purpose is innovative and pushing the boundaries of what may be considered a “medical appointment”)  I also know that I am giving up part of my retirement for taking this leave, so I need the long-term benefit of my health being improved to outweigh the loss of retirement funding that it will cause.

So far, I am doing well at this new job.  While I feel I am not yet fully competent, as any new worker isn’t, I am putting in the time and practice to become experienced, and this should set habits for my future.   And as I will discuss in a blog entry coming soon, this motivation and mindset of being work (combined with my good work ethic) , along with other psychological motivators (that I will also soon write about), are all working together to making sure I will get the health results I want.

Integrating Python into Excel for Web Scraping, Advanced Functions, and More

For some time I’ve been wanting to learn Python.  It seems to be one of the best rapid-development open source languages to do all types of scripting activities and integration between different languages.  It also is very commonly used for scraping and advanced data processing.  And I also have realized from my past, that I want to invest my time in learning things that have long-term usability, and proprietary software, in general, does not necessarily have this benefit.

But I still want to use Excel.  While there are open source data analysis tools that are out there, they either don’t have as many features as Excel (as unfortunately Open & Libre Office don’t), or I haven’t learned them (as some of the open source math packages and languages are).  The feature problem is especially the case with data presentation, Excel can make nice looking charts, diagrams, etc, while most of the others take much more work to do these things.  (Maybe some day I will be able to help with the Open Source projects, and make them better, but for right now, I don’t have the time.)

So, my next incremental step to moving towards using more open source software, is to start to do any advanced programming for Excel spreadsheets in Python instead of VBA.  This is especially relevant to me right now, as there are many spreadsheets that I have, that I need to do web scraping for, and while I have learned to do some of this in VBA, I want to invest my energies into learning Python, which has a lot more code pre-written to do this also.

I also want to be able to create Excel files that can be easily distributed.  And this is where the rub comes.  There are several methods that have been developed to integrate Python and Excel, including using a DLL file, 2 Add-ins that have been developed, and the traditional method of using a Python COM server.  Generally all of these require external files, and sometimes external installations.  But I think I can solve this problem by embedding Python Scripts as OLEObjects and call these from Excel using VBA.   These can then setup the COM Server, and do everything else necessary.

While I’m sure I will run into some walls along the way, I think the idea is sound, and as I develop this more, I will share the VBA code that can be used to do this technique.

First Official Day of Intensive Proactive Medical Plan

I just completed a session of Move to Thrive with Kaiser.  I was the youngest person in the session, but that was what I expected, given that the times of the classes are during traditional work hours.  But it was good to be with a bunch of seniors, as I didn’t feel any perceived peer pressure to do more than I could or to be embarrased about my fitness.  I also feel more confident that any of the moves we are doing is generally safe for someone like myself who is in poorer shape.

With the walking portion of the session, I performed above the average of other participants.  (Although again they were all much older than myself)  I am sure that my previous work at the gym on the treadmill was a factor to being able to walk at a good brisk pace for several laps around the center, while having my laptop backpack on.

With the balance portion of the session, I performed slightly below the average of the other participants. We did exercises in the chair at first, which were much more rigorous and challenging than I expected.  We also did other standing exercises and stretches, with several being on one foot (which was challenging for me).  We were encouraged to not overdo anything and to modify the activities as much as needed.

Currently my body is feeling well stretched, in a good way.  I now know what I need to bring to future sessions (which I probably should get today so I can be prepared for tomorrow).  These items include bottle water (which I should have known, and thankfully I drank a lot before the class), small hand weights, a hat, and balance pods.  I will record my activities tonight in Wii Fit Plus, and also measure my weight/BMI.