Why health apps fail and how to use tech to help you

Objective data helps us overcome our own shortsightedness and can help us have a greater perspective of days, weeks, months, and years that our primitive moment-to moment brain is not set up to be sensitive to. Technology that we have in our phones and tracking devices have been around for years. The problem of public health in our modern societies that can be helped by daily habits of movement and food choices have not gotten better with more technology. 
With every new purchase of an app or new device, we get a rush of excitement at the feeling of potential of what we want to do with this device, how this will be the turning point in our lifestyle to get us out of our rut and up to our potential. This excitement leads to disappointment without a few important things.

Tracking a body weight exercise routine on Bodyspace App

Tracking a body weight exercise routine on Bodyspace App

We need to start with awareness of ourselves, appreciating what our capabilities and deficits are, identifying the obstacles and stories in our heads of what is working and what is not working. This is also an opportunity to identify the why we want to make a change. Our being is smart in that if we are working for a superficial goal or a goal that is an imitation of someone else's then we will sabotage ourselves out of reaching further. We need to understand the seeds of what makes us motivates to get up and go.  
New technology cannot take the place of awareness, we can hit ignore on our reminders, we can fill out all the food logs but if we do not know why we are doing it we are exerting energy to conform, doing more in confusing and getting further away from our understanding of what makes us tick, we build up walls of data that give us a false sense of what is important to achieving superficial goals.
Objectivity is a tool as is subjectivity in helping us express ourselves and take advantage of all that is on offer in our little world. Denying objectivity can lead to capriciousness and resentment and misunderstanding of innovation. As Sam Harris writes about in the Moral Landscape, if scientists continue to vacate the moral landscape, we are all missing out on how our increasing objective knowledge can inform our moral decision. Just as objectivity denied in taking care of our health can leave immense opportunity for taking advantage of advances in technology, medicine, physiology, science. The people that use science as a tool and have knowledge will have the benefit over those who do not have opportunity or cringe away from technology because they are put off by being shown in hard data how the body is working or not working. If people who base their decisions on intuition alone continue to eschew objective measures they are putting themselves at the mercy of the flightiness of their primitive brain centers who want to indulge in salt, sugar, and fat because it feels good and we are evolved to be drawn to these fuel sources that are tied to survival. To deny that this is in all of us is to deny what we understand about how the brain lights up when stimulated by these substances. 
That which gets measured improves.
Objective measurement tests in terms of weight, power to weight ratio, underwater weighing, maximum lifting capacity, VO2Max, circumference, blood lactate levels, hormone response, sleep cycles, resting heart rate. All these items can give us a wider lens to be the partner to how we feel on a given day, at a given moment.
Feeling of restfulness, satiety, thirst, hunger, desire, irritability, all these states can influence our ability to accomplish the one brick in front of us that will build the building that represents the artful application of our skill, knowledge.
Robert Pirsig describes art as the marriage of conceptual with objective skill. Like a sculpture who has an idea of beauty, what he likes, and has developed the skill to make a physical version of his vision a reality.
Using health apps give us the tools to bring our dreams to reality if used for us, rather than letting them use us.
 
Some items in creating a system of apps and devices that can help us:
We need:
1. easy or automatic to input data- this reduces drag to us collecting data, very important for the creative person to have little resistance to the act of gathering data.
2. Apps need to be able to share data so that we can see how diet, exercise, subjective feelings, and performance relate to each other
3. Take advantage of biases; social bias- sharing on social media, feedback for kudos and comments
4. Goal Tracking-- help us see where we are going based on our daily inputs so that we can correct or stay on our current course.

Traking a bike ride on Strava: segments comparing you to others who have ridden the same segment.

Traking a bike ride on Strava: segments comparing you to others who have ridden the same segment.

I have been through different phases with trying to use technology and different exercise regimes. If our principles are general enough we can apply them to help us in our journey. If they are too narrow our intelligence will be insulted and we will throw out our methods even if they had kernels of the truth. This is why we go through phases with different exercise routines, always doing a new thing looking for the holy grail. Creative and intelligent people have a blindspot for leaving good methods on the table because it does not encompass everything. Have you ever been critical of a teacher who did not have all the answers? If you find a good teacher learn whatever they have to give. and use the knowledge as a tool, not the end in and of itself.
This will help us in choosing and staying with methods long enough to let them work while not trying to grasp on to any one method of exercise, guru, or data set with a false pretense that this holds the one key to health.

For tracking daily basic health, Apple health brings in data from many apps, they track daily steps and sleep.
For tracking my cycling data I use a Garmin Edge 500 synced with my Strava account which is linked to my facebook. I do this to be able to have social bias to give me external motivation and compare and compete with others in order to know if I am improving compared to others in my competitive bracket. Linking to facebook and social media allows me to share the art of my love for cycling and to inspire others to join me and find their own journey. Also linked to my Strava is Myfitness Pal which I use as a food log to track what I am putting into my body. How many hershey kisses did you eat? 2 or 9? the difference is 200calories. No calories are not everything, but ignore this one data point to your peril. Energy in and out does not represent the whole truth when it comes to nutrition but it does help us see if we are way off in not eating enough- explaining why we do not have enough energy to continue our pursuits, or too much-explaining why we gained 10pounds in the last 2 months. 
It is easy to get caught up in the day to day, this is why long term data tracking helps us transcend our tunnel vision.

MyFitnessPal How I track my meals, they have the brands and quantities of many foods to get us pretty close to our food intake, this app is connected to my Strava account so it shows my morning bike ride and takes that energy expenditure into account for the estimate of my recommended caloric intake to maintain my weight, pretty great when apps talk to each other.

MyFitnessPal How I track my meals, they have the brands and quantities of many foods to get us pretty close to our food intake, this app is connected to my Strava account so it shows my morning bike ride and takes that energy expenditure into account for the estimate of my recommended caloric intake to maintain my weight, pretty great when apps talk to each other.



To keep track of body weight and gym workouts I use Bodyspace- this app does not link up with  my fitness pal, so I do not yet have a closed ecosystem where all my inputs and outputs are talking to each other.
I like to connect these building blocks each day with art, this is why I like photos with Instagram so I can have a visual boost when I look back at my data and I can tell a story, much more effective at keeping us engaged in our path and motivating others to join us in finding their own path to health through enjoyment.

Having the discipline to input the data and having apps talk to each other and liberating the data to other platforms and making it easy to use. This is how we use data to make our vision come out. Celebrate and let people see what you are experiencing, it may help inspire someone else, and yes it feels goood to get a kudo or like on our steps along the way.

Today, download Strava, MyFitness Pal, get a device like a Garmin to track your workouts, go for a ride or a run, take an instagram picture, share it with your friends and family and write a story about what you learned about yourself and the world around you.