Monday, December 22, 2014

A Case for Wearables

Wearables have been getting a lot of bad reputation due to studies revealing that people abandon them after 6 months. I’d like to defend them, and offer a different view.

I hit that critical 6 months mark with my Polar Loop in July. I suddenly noticed I just wasn’t wearing it anymore. Also, I started to get annoyed with having to charge the band every few days. Something had clearly happened in our relationship.

Wearables provide information

I originally started tracking my daily activity with the Moves app, over a year ago. I had heard a lot about the 10 000 daily steps required to stay fit, but I had no idea how many I was taking myself.

With the Moves app, it took me a few months to learn what it takes to reach that goal. My daily walking commute gets me half way through, and my other activities vary so that I sometimes pass the 10 000 mark, often times not. What was really important for me to learn, however, was how much variation there is. Some days I just stay at home, programming. On those days, I may take less than 200 steps. On other days, I may have several meetings taking place at different locations, and I may take over 15 000 steps without really noticing being involved in any physical activity.

Wearables do help people with chronic conditions

The main reason for me to track my daily activity is not to get fit. I have type 1 diabetes, which means my body no longer produces the insulin hormone, rather I must inject it myself. I really must pay attention to that variation in my baseline activity, as it directly affects my blood glucose levels and therefore also my insulin needs, both during that day and over the following night.

Moves app already helped me get some of that understanding, and the Polar Loop added more details. I’m able to track my heart rate at the gym as well as during football games and practices, and learn the effects different levels of exercise have on my blood sugar levels.

Wearables do facilitate behaviour change

I never expected an app or device to motivate me to exercise more. For me, it has always been more about learning the effects. Still, tracking my daily steps changed my perspective.

Before, my engineer brain optimized my walking routes for efficiency, for the least amount of steps. Once I started tracking my steps and had that magical number 10 000 in my head, I suddenly started to optimize the routes so that I could get to that goal or exceed it. I ended up selecting routes that would actually increase my step count, instead of getting somewhere in the fastest way. I feel that change in perspective is permanent, even if I end up abandoning my wearable device.

Wearables get abandoned for a reason

So, my precious wearable had taught me to better manage my chronic condition and helped me be more active, and I was still about to abandon it after that 6 months mark. Had it failed me in some way? I would say, quite the contrary! My wristband has provided me with a wealth of information, and I’m immensely grateful for that. It’s just that after 6 months I’m not learning that much anymore.

Now, I still wear my Polar Loop almost daily. Partly because it’s a nice visual aid when I explain what our startup Sensotrend does, combining information from medical devices (I point to my glucose meter or insulin pump) with data from activity trackers and other wellness apps (I point to my wrist band). But also because I really want to take the data I gather to the next level, make it more actionable.

For instance, I’m currently implementing an app on my phone that reminds me to set my insulin delivery overnight to a lower level if my daily count has exceeded 15 000 steps, or increase the rate in case I’ve recorded less than 5 000. This kind of personalized and actionable notifications are the direction I’m hoping many wellness apps will evolve in.

Human touch enhances the effect of wearables

Finally, let’s not forget the importance of some human interaction. For instance, my wife followed my tracking with interest for a long time, but only started tracking her own steps after I installed a pedometer app to her phone. Installing an app seems trivial for me, but she never got to do it herself. Now she’s way beyond her 6 months mark, and still tracks her steps daily.

Doing things together certainly also helps with the behavior change. The first time ever I myself recorded 10 000 steps on 7 consecutive days were the days immediately after I had installed the tracker to my wife’s phone.

This post was originally published in the HealthSPA blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment