With rapidly growing waistlines and shrunken computer postures, humanity is fast approaching an event horizon of big data’s influence for a better world.
Current economic interests are racing closely alongside the technology sector’s service for the public good, and it should come as no surprise that from 2011-2014, Rock Health reports digital health funding has now swelled to over 3.05 billion dollars.
History has proved that in order to identify a trending market we must always follow the money. When it comes to using digital health positively to impact our habits, I believe we must also follow our hearts.
Technology Giveth Or Technology Taketh Away?
All sentient beings deserve health, happiness, and the pursuit of dreams - yet millions of global citizens wake up each day with a preloaded mental narrative that erodes progress towards their health goals.
A true beacon of hope for the human race can be found in the science of neuroplasticity, where studies have shown that our cognition, similar to our behaviors, are both regenerated and strengthened from a change in environment and the introduction of new stimuli.
In order to resist the fast-growing roots of deleterious behaviors (which have ultimately created this booming digital health market), we first must understand the genesis of self-sabotage and how advances in digital health technology can help us prosper.
What Exactly Is a Habit?
A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously. In the American Journal of Psychology (1903) it is defined in this way:
“A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Habits are sometimes compulsory.
Habits are usually triggered by context. Certain people, times of the day, being in close proximity to unhealthy foods, varied stress levels, and sleepless nights all can contribute to making decisions in the heat of the moment that ultimately don’t serve us.
In order to create a conscious direction toward healthy behavior, we must first be in alignment with a reinforced belief that our health correlates with our actions.
All habits originate from a psychological pattern called a “habit loop,” which is a three-part process. First, there’s a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold. Then there’s the routine, which is the behavior itself. This is what we think about when we think about habits. The third step is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the habit loop in the future.
How Can Digital Health Change Habits?
Quantified self and digital health technologies can now provide us a mirror of mindfulness that can shed light on our most intimate and subconscious habits.
Not sure why you’re always tired on Tuesdays and Saturdays?
Wondering why you are working out but not losing any more weight?
With large personal data sets and behavioral analytics, you’re now empowered by fitness wearables to see your own health activity from a 30,000 foot view. From high above, you’ll be gifted with deep insight toward creating a data-driven action plan for what, or even who, to now add or remove from your life.
The New Year will bring digital health applications and tools, such as the Basis PEAK or Fitbit SURGE, that provide end-users with enhanced accountability to help achieve personal health goals via mobile dashboards, customized push notifications, and tailored messaging.
Positive reinforcements to guide behavioral modification can be tactfully placed in digital health applications that hold a willing participant’s “feet to the fire.” The measuring and recording of one’s personal health data provides the optimal platform for a self-knowledge-through-numbers type intervention that can be applied to all levels of age, health, and pre-disposition.
I recently had the honor of working with participants during the Warrior Yoga Retreat lead by Mark Divine at SEALFIT in Encinitas, CA, where quantified self-tracking was used to measure heart rate, oxygen saturation, and stress-reduction in participants. Working with Olympians Sky & Tamara Christopherson, we used quantified self-tracking devices from Masimo during a guided visualization and meditation practice to yield powerful quantitative and qualitative results.
Another example of digital health driving mindfulness is Lumo Lift: a posture-correcting device that you can wear on your chest. It reminds you to sit straight by generating small vibrations and can also track how often you are sitting in the proper posture in a day.
Gamification for Youth
As the funding shifts into high gear for the burgeoning adult health-tracking space, a growing number of companies are seeking to apply digital health and self-tracking to catching the problem before it becomes exponential: childhood obesity and the challenge to get kids to be more active.
Companies like Zamzee have created fun, engaging, and impactful applications that are designed to get kids moving and make moving fun.
Quality Of Life
In a society that expects to see double the current number of adults over 65 by 2050, resulting in Medicare costs doubling from 3.7 percent of GDP to 7.3 percent, tactics to increase preventive health care and lower medical costs are important avenues to pursue.
All ages will benefit from advancement in these technologies, which will reduce strain on the nation’s medical budget while also helping people become happier with their lives.
This will be a resounding victory for our quality of life.
Stated by Ronald Barba in "The Quantified Soul: A Guide to the Best Habit and Mood Tracking Apps":
“Because the goal (for many) of quantifying various aspects of our lives is to improve their overall quality, the mobile market has seen an increase in the number of apps that offers capabilities for tracking our human behavior and emotion. The myriad habit and mood tracking apps now available all aim at an inherent human conviction: we all want to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Josh Trent, NASM-CES, CPT, HLC, is a corrective exercise specialist and participatory sports technology expert with over 9 years in the fitness industry. His passion is to accelerate wellness evolution through the power of the Digital Health and Quantified Self movements. You can follow him on Twitter @wellnessforce, or through his website www.wellnessforce.com.