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How The #Hellastorm Slowed San Francisco, As Told By Its Wearables

Fitbit and Jawbone UP data shows how people move less when it’s raining outside.

How The #Hellastorm Slowed San Francisco, As Told By Its Wearables
[Photo: Flickr user Vinoth Chandar]

When a huge thunderstorm hit the San Francisco Bay Area on December 11, the whole region was disrupted. There were blackouts in San Francisco’s financial district. Tech companies in Silicon Valley worked at half-speed as their employees telecommuted. The record storm left 100,000 without power and flooded major highways. Quantified-self-loving Californians also, it seems, used the day to relax and unwind.

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Data provided to Fast Company by both Fitbit and Jawbone shows a nearly 20%-30% drop in activity due to the storm. The huge databases aggregated from the tens of thousands of personal fitness tracker wearers around San Francisco and environs, when viewed as a whole, provide statistical evidence of what happens to our physical activity during a powerful storm. In this case, the Bay Area’s #hellastorm provided powerful evidence.

Fitbit

Shelten Yuen, Fitbit’s head of research, says users in the San Francisco Bay Area lost approximately 20.7% of their step average the week of the megastorm. That information comes from what the company calls “one of the largest databases of biometric information in the world.”

Yuen added that “While we know working from home or sitting all day may have been frustrating for users, people shouldn’t stress when they miss one day of activity due to bad weather. Ultimately the success of our products comes from empowering users to accurately see their overall health and fitness trends over time.”

A similarly large decrease showed up among users of Jawbone UP trackers. Information provided by vice president of data science Monica Rogati (one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People) was even more granular than Fitbit’s and indicates just how a big storm can impact physical activity.

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Compared to an average Thursday, San Fransiscans took 28% fewer steps on December 11, with an average of 6,493 steps per user that day in the Bay Area. The average is a considerably higher 9,087.


Jawbone has also previously conducted research and analysis of how weather changes affect their users’ physical activity, which is logged 24-7 on their devices. According to a recent statistical analysis by Jawbone’s Eugene Mandel that compared aggregate physical activity of UP users to weather datasets published by the National Climatic Data Center, users log 5% more steps at 70°F than at 40°F on weekdays, but that number increases to 15% on the weekends. (Jawbone also recently explored where its users tend to stay up latest: in the U.S., it’s Astoria, Queens; globally, it’s Moscow.)

Ultimately, this information is more than just neat trivia. As psychological tools, fitness trackers play a surprisingly strong part in nudging users to go to the gym and increase their physical activity. With health insurers taking tentative steps to embrace fitness trackers for users, it’s also one that’s going to be more common in coming years thanks to both the efforts of insurers and built-in health tracking functions on both iPhones and Androids.

But how do you keep in shape when it rains, anyhow? Rogati, with a wink, suggests “indoor walking meetings,” while Fitbit suggested by email that users try 8.5 minutes of living-room push-ups or squats the next time there’s a major storm… or just exercise more when the weather is nicer.

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