Is Counting Steps A Waste of Time?

Everyday I see a new ‘wearable’ product being launched with the promise that it would motivate me to be more active, lose weight, improve health & prevent all the potential ill effects of inactivity. Yet as a father of two kids there is never enough time to be active and certainly not the two hours it takes to complete the daily recommended activity goal of 10,000 steps!

So what’s the solution ? In a seminal piece of work, Paul T. Williams from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab analyzed over 30 different studies covering over 2 million person years of follow-up to conclusively demonstrate that being fit is much more beneficial (i.e. lower risk of heart disease) than being active. In fact even a moderate improvement in fitness is more beneficial than being the most active person on the planet!

Fitness here is specifically defined as ‘cardio-respiratory fitness’ i.e. the ability of your heart & lungs to supply oxygen to your muscles when engaged in sustained physical activity.

As a result, the American Heart Association in 2013 issued a policy statement stating that “Cardio-respiratory fitness is the most important correlate of overall health status … and perhaps the strongest predictor for CVD and total mortality”. So if you have time to focus on improving one thing, that should be your fitness level not your activity.

Not to suggest that counting steps (or calories) is not beneficial at all … but it doesn’t seem like a smart way to improve your health. Fitness on the other hand is best improved through short bursts of high intensity training … so you actually spend less time yet can be healthier!

Sources:

1. Paul T. Williams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 May ; 33(5): 754–761
2. Donatello, Rebeka J. (2005). Health, The Basics. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc. (wikipedia.org)
3. Kaminsky et al A National Registry for Cardiorespiratory Fitness. Circulation. 2013;127:652-662

How to Measure Your Metabolic Health (with some help from Apple)

From the poll I ran last week it looks like people really want to understand their “metabolic health” Below are the first set of wireframes that show you how the app could look.

So what is Metabolic Health?

In simple terms its the efficiency with which your body is able to supply the necessary fuel for your energy needs.

MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_5

MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_ActivityProfile_Update MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_7Low metabolic health puts you at increased risk for heart disease or diabetes. High metabolic health has a protective effect that to some extent can compensate for higher body weight.

The screen on the left shows you the 5 different levels of Metabolic Health – the lower your level, the higher your risk of getting diabetes or heart disease.

How will the app measure my Metabolic Health?

The first step is to enter a few basic details (height, weight, etc.). Next the app runs an analysis of your last week’s activity with the help of the iPhone 5s’ motion sensor to calculate your metabolic profile. (The middle screen shows your activity profile including how intensely you are moving).

This is based on pretty cool work done by NASA & UMass – we’ve modified this to accept the kind of data that the iPhone can provide. Accuracy is about 82% compared to going to a lab – which is useful if you’re trying to get a broad sense of where you stand and want to have a tool that can help you assess if you’re making improvements.

You can also see how active you’ve been versus clinical guidelines & use that as a tool to drive your metabolic health higher (screen on the right). Interestingly, increasing intensity of your activity is likely to have a bigger impact on your metabolic health than increasing the amount of time you spend being active.

Love to hear your comments / thoughts / suggestions below on what you personally find useful and how we could improve this app.

Want to be the first to test it or download it ? Sign up below :

[This is Week 2 of my involvement in the Lean Startup Challenge, Boston – applying lean principles to health technology product development You can read about my Week 1 experience here].