Going Paperless: Capturing Fitness and Health Information In Evernote

Recently I was chatting with Evernote’s Fitness Ambassador about how I capture some of my activity and fitness information in Evernote. It occurred to me that this may be a popular topic, especially since I do it without paper. Moreover, I’ve managed to automate some of the process, making it easy to get the data into Evernote. Also, we find ourselves back from our long Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States and people are probably grumbling over how much food they ate, and how much weight they gained. So a paperless fitness post seemed apropos.

I use Evernote to capture 3 general types of health and fitness information:

  1. Food
  2. Fitness
  3. Health

Below, I will describe what I capture and how I capture it. I do this without paper, of course, and one advantage of being paperless, as I suggested in an earlier post, is the ability to automate much of what I used to have to capture manually.

1. Capturing what I eat with Evernote Food

Evernote Food is a cool little app that runs on my iPhone. With it, I can capture images of various meals I eat and provide some additional details like where I ate them, who I was with, and whether it was a special occasion. I tend to use this to capture special meals, like when we eat out at a restaurant, or have some kind of holiday celebration meal. Since I am still recovering from the rather amazing Thanksgiving dinner I had last week, here is what the Evernote Food entry looks like on my iPhone:

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Meals that I capture in Evernote Food automatically go into a Meals notebook. Like any note, they are date-stamped so that I can easily find out when I had the meal. As I said, I don’t capture every meal I eat with Evernote Food, just those that stand out for some reason.

2. Capturing fitness information with FitBit

Since March of this year, I have been using the FitBit Ultra activity tracker device. This is a little device that clips to your waistband during the day and captures things like how many steps you take, how many flights of stairs you climb, and based on some algorithms, how many calories you burn. At night, it can also track your sleeping habits. They don’t make my model any longer, but they do make the FitBit One, which is comparable.  My device sends its data each day automatically so that I don’t have to do anything. The data is uploaded to FitBit’s website where all kinds of interesting charts and graphs are produced.

I make use of this information is a couple of different ways.

First, FitBit sends me a weekly email that summarizes my activity for that week. I have a filter setup in Gmail that forwards these email messages to my Evernote email address, which automatically puts these notes into Evernote for me. I file these notes in an Activity notebook. Here is what one of those notes look like:

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In addition, I make use of the FitBit API (application programming interface) to access my minute-by-minute activity data. I then do some processing and analytics on this data that helps to summarize it ways that FitBit itself doesn’t do out of the box. For instance, I can produce a chart of my daily activity. For a typical day, my walking looks something like this:

Pedometer Daily Profile.png

Notice I don’t do much walking after about 9pm. This data is also sent to Evernote at different intervals. The raw data itself is stored in a Google Spreadsheet. I’ve written in more detail about how I analyze this data.

Finally, when I work out (not as often these days as I should), I prepare and capture my workouts in Evernote. I have a template that I use for preparing my workout, based on what I learned when working with a trainer a few years back. This template includes the various exercises, sets and reps that I plan to do. When I finish my workout, I update the note with an “actual”–what I actually managed to do and add some other information, like how long it took me to do the workout and how I felt about it. So I can go back to any day I did a workout and have a clear picture of what I did.

3. Capturing health information

In addition to capturing information about meals I’ve eaten and activity I’ve undertaken, there is some other biometric information that I capture:

  • FitBit makes a scale that allows you to wirelessly capture your weight, and this information is included in the summary that gets sent to Evernote.
  • I use a wireless blood pressure monitor made by iHealth to capture my blood pressure and pulse at various intervals. They have an iPhone app that captures the results of these measurements and provides charts and graphs. It is very easy to grab a screen capture of a measurement then send that image to Evernote.
  • My day job has a wellness program that does an annual biometrics screening. The results of the screening is provided on a printout, which is easy to scan into Evernote and which allows a year-by-year comparison of my health information.

Bonus: Analyzing Fitness Correlations

Why is this information useful? I think it depends on your goal for capturing information in the first place. For me, I find it useful for 3 reasons:

  1. I’m a completist and I take Evernote’s “remember everything” slogan seriously. Since most of this information is being captured automatically for me, why not pull it into Evernote?
  2. It is nice to have a timeline of my health and fitness information. It is particularly convenient when visiting the doctor and he asks about my activity. It’s pretty funny to see his reaction when I can pull up charts, graphs and numbers on my iPhone in seconds.
  3. You can learn things from it.

The last point is important and perhaps overlooked. Mashing up seemingly different sets of data can often provide interesting results. For instance, in reviewing my blood pressure measurements from late last week, I noticed they were higher than normal. I thought that was odd. Why would that be? I could easily check out my activity and what I ate. I wasn’t as active last week as I normally am. But that didn’t seem to matter. There have been other weeks that I haven’t been active and not had a spike in my blood pressure.

So I decided to look more broadly. I pulled up a timeline off all of the notes I’d captured in the second half of the week. This was everything, sorted by time. There were dozens of notes. Tweets I’d made, blog posts, paper I’d scanned in, food I’d eaten. Reading through them, I noted a trend. I did an unusual amount of driving last week–something that always raises my blood pressure. We drove up to New York for Thanksgiving. I also was pushing against a couple of deadlines, to say nothing of Thanksgiving itself. In looking at all of the data, it’s no wonder my blood pressure was up a bit.

I like having enough data to see the big picture, and being able to capture my fitness and health information–almost entirely automated–in Evernote makes it easy to see that big picture.


As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts are also available on Pinterest.

5 thoughts on “Going Paperless: Capturing Fitness and Health Information In Evernote

  1. I also started tracking all my running, cycling and strength training activities in Evernote.

    I use two iphone apps, one is called iSmoothrun (for running and cycling) which logs all the information (heartrate, distance, time, calories, etc) which then syncs to Runkeeper. For gym sessions I use Gym Hero, which also syncs with Runkeeper’s website.

    When I get back home, I take a screenshot of the Runkeeper website (the last activity), and by using Hazel on the Mac the screenshot is automatically added to Evernote and tagged with “fitness” and also the activity such as “mtb” or “running” etc. This helps me keep up to date on my health activities and progress wherever I am.

    It’s good to see I’m not the only one who likes to log such information in a system like Evernote.

  2. I’m also trying to use both EN and Fitbit regularly.

    One thing I thought I’d point out, is Fitbit has a graph very similar to the one you are producing. On the dashboard page near the bottom of the screen is a link for Steps above a chart. If you click that it shows a similar activity chart.

    1. Chris, indeed it does, but I believe that graph (a) summarizes in 5-minute intervals as opposed to 1-minute intervals; (b) is limited to the day at which you are looking. My data aggregates the picture for an entire selected date range so I can see what a typical day looks like for me by averaging all of the individual days. I also go beyond this. I produce diurnal plots that show me my steps plotted by date across the x-axis and time of day across the y-axis. Some pretty cool stuff there as well.

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