Working Out the Math

I’ve used a few of my recent posts to talk about the ways in which I see math in the everyday – from the bakeries and art galleries of Santa Fe, to news about space travel. Today’s reflection is another of those, inspired by what is probably for many of us the most number-filled stretch of the day: exercise time. Outside of a hospital, bank, or trading floor, there are few places that are more “en-numbered” than today’s gym. Whether you are counting the number of reps you do, watching the timer count down (or up) on the treadmill or exercise bike, or using one of the bazillion different personal health monitors that count your steps, keep track of heart rate, estimate your calorie loss, numbers guide many a personal health regimen.

Just the fact of there being numbers involved doesn’t make it math – although some of us might make math out of them. (For example, I like varying my counts, sometimes going by twos, threes, fours or fives.) But a place where many of us are “doing math”, whether we know it or not, is with these now ubiquitous personal health monitors. You may have noticed certain relationships between the various numbers that they record – simple ones like faster heart rate means more calories expended or an increase in some kind of strange new trademarked metric. These observations are the first step to modeling – no, not being a model (although maybe, if you work out a lot!), but rather mathematical modeling. That is, thinking about how one number that is the output of some process might be related to a collection of other observed numbers.

Spin class is a place where I think about this a lot. The —> Read More