Finding the Holy Grail in Sticking to New Year’s Health Goals (hint: it may be linked to digital health tools, relationships and your age)

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 After the weeks of partying, drinking, eating and other revelry during the holiday season, it makes sense that most of us, who do not share Keith Richard’s constitution, choose to abandon these non-sustainable behaviors with healthier ones in the New Year. The problem is anywhere between 46-88 percent of us abandon our good intentions within six months. According to a recent U.K. research study, the most common reasons for failing at New Year’s health resolutions were setting unrealistic goals (35 percent), not keeping track of progress (33 percent) and forgetting to do the activity (23 percent).

This is great news for the growing wearables market which can solve the last two challenges. According to IDC, more than 125 million wearables shipped this year – a 20 percent increase over last year – and overall the market forecast is almost double growth to 240 million units by 2021. However IDC also reported the type of wearable that will fuel this growth is evolving from basic wearables that just track fitness such as steps walked or calories burned (think FitBit or Xiaomi) to smart wearables with third party apps  creating a multi-purpose device (such as Apple Watch 3’s voice, data and music streaming capability).

The Eyes Have It

The smart wearable is the direction taken by one of our partners at the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC), VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop. VSP’s development of the fashion meets tech meets health LevelTM smart glasses, which have a biometric sensor embedded in the eyeglasses, not only provides a health tracking form factor that prescription eyeglass users wear every day without thinking about it, but I give VSP kudos because they took the time to engage with us in a research study to understand how to get wearable users invested in their health for the long-term.

What our study revealed is Level users maintained or increased their activity by 20-25 percent based mostly on relationships. For instance, the digital coaching app that comes with Level provided expert guidance on continued activity, support and encouragement from the user’s social networks kept them motivated and a charitable giving component brought users a “do good for others” element to their health goals. In other words, relationships can make you healthier. It’s not just about personal goals, it’s about engaging with others, getting needed support and giving back.

Since Juniper Research has identified smart glasses as the highest growth sector of the consumer wearables segment over the next five years, we’re excited for the launch of Level later this year.

Age and Life Satisfaction Make a Difference

One of the other success factors from our study that resonated with me personally was that older age participants—63 percent were over age 40—along with higher life satisfaction scores also predicted higher activity levels.

Since I founded the USC Center for Body Computing 12 years ago I have watched the growth and impact of digital health tools transform medicine and health care and transform my personal behavior.

I feel like it’s my responsibility to find the most compelling use cases for digital and wearable technology, so in the fall, as we were planning to use Apple watches in a study with U.S. Marines, I wanted to get some more ideas about how to use the watch in the water to help train so I kicked started   my New Year’s Resolution for better health.

Using my Apple Watch, I resolved to swim 4-6 miles a week and to measure, increase and improve my performance over time. I wanted to test how tracking my swims in detail (split-times and strokes), with this technology could be used to motivate and keep the workouts fresh.

I’ve always been a swimmer, but over the years, my trips to the pool can feel like my trips to the aqua prison. Other than better flexibility and fitness, what I gain from swimming is relaxation and better emotional resilience throughout the day. However, like most workouts, swimming can feel repetitive and boring.

Tracking with the watch works. I’ve gotten a ton of ideas about how to program and use the watch to provide me with insights and I’ve also become addicted to the data it gives me. It has become really easy and natural for me to set new goals and connect  the dots from my workout data to my overall health,  especially with the comparative summary  data the watch gives for workouts from one day or week to the next.  My workouts in the pool now yield dynamic and deeply personalized data, that informs the next workout and keeps me interested and motivated.  And, I get encouragement from my team at USC CBC where we all have watches and share our workouts. I like competing with the younger pipsqueaks!

So whether I am seeing my cardiology patients, or working with our USC CBC partners on digital health solutions, my swimming is not about generic  health goals but more about personalized data I can be creative with and that enable me to make  better health decisions in the 23 hours and 20 minutes a day I am not swimming.   

Women and Health Resolutions

As long as I’m blogging, I’ll make another point about exercise that I think is really relevant to the mental and physical health of women. It is my belief that most American women, due to lifelong cultural conditioning, have an adjustment disorder to their weight (regardless of their actual weight) and that we often equate weight or the desire for weight reduction, with exercise.

Weight and exercise need to be thought about very differently, to allow women to gain the confidence to be more comfortable with both. Weight is pretty much exclusively related to food intake. Exercise is about making an investment into one’s mental and physical health.  Women, who already have a hard time being comfortable and confident about their weight,  typically choose to  focus on  losing  weight as a New Year’s Resolution rather exercise as a goal in itself.  The former only feeds an insecurity and the latter may create a path toward health and strength that can hopefully build more confidence around how a woman feels about her weight.  

But the Holy Grail of health and happiness, informed with personalized and dynamic data is what I believe digital health tools, such as smart wearables, will give to all of us. For women, the ability to separate weight concerns from health goals, the ability to think about how healthy habits over time build confidence and health longevity and adding more quality years – healthspan – to our lives. If we can achieve this then we can achieve better focus and performance whether we are a marine in training or a woman trying to get healthier.

Here’s to a healthy and happy new year!

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