Use of digital health fitness devices and apps can be exciting and fun to monitor, but what does all the data eventually tell us?
Let’s face it, there are times when we can all feel a bit overwhelmed from a plethora of fitness technology that seems to come out weekly in the digital health space. This technology is aimed at trying to help individuals measure, track and improve various health outcomes related to diet, exercise, mood and even our sleep habits. “Fitbit” as an example, updated its line of products to help improve those outcomes and recently launched a new corporate wellness platform.
The development and use of all these types of devices and apps can be exciting and fun to monitor, but what does all the data eventually tell us? More importantly, what if anything, are these outcome measures telling us about the state of our own health and fitness?
What the research says
In order to answer some of these questions, it would be to our advantage to understand the exercise science research behind some of these key health metrics. For example, if you are one of the many people using a pedometer to record and track your daily steps and flights of stairs, what is a safe, beneficial goal in terms of daily or weekly cumulative steps and stairs climbed? This is where it’s important to have an idea of what the exercise science research has demonstrated.
Research by Krogh-Madsen and colleagues showed that dramatic physiological changes take place after just two weeks of decreasing activity level and using a pedometer can help prevent this.1 The subjects in this study were young, lean, healthy men who decreased their daily steps from 10,000 steps a day to 1,300 steps a day. As a result, subjects experienced an increase in body weight, a 7 percent decline in VO2 max (aerobic capacity), a 2.8 percent loss of lean muscle in their legs, and a 17 percent drop in insulin sensitivity after just two weeks of decreasing their activity by 8,700 steps a day.
A second study demonstrated significant changes in body composition in participants who increased their steps to average more than 9,500 a day for 32 weeks.2 Subjects lost 5 pounds, 1.9 percent body fat and 1.9 centimeters from their hips. They also increased their HDL cholesterol by 3 mg/dL and lowered their BMI by nearly 2 points (participants increased their steps on average by 4,000 steps a day).
Research has also shown that pedometer users increase activity levels and Fitbit has reported their average wearer takes 43 percent more steps when wearing one of their devices. Stanford researchers looked at pedometer use in 26 different studies and summarized the results in The Journal of the American Medical Association.3 Their results showed that pedometer users walk an additional 2,000 additional steps more than non-users, and their overall physical activity level increases by 27 percent when wearing a pedometer on a regular basis.
There are many benefits to increasing daily steps and the same holds true when it comes to stair climbing. One study showed that climbing 8 flights of stairs (3x/day) at 75 steps per minute pace, over an 8-week period, significantly increased VO2max by 9.4 percent.4 The Harvard Alumni Study found that men who average at least eight flights of stairs a day enjoy a 33 percent lower mortality rate compared to men who were sedentary — and that’s even better than the 22 percent lower death rate men earned by walking 1.3 miles a day.5
How the research applies
Now that you’re armed with this new information, you may want to have a goal in mind and start building up to at least 10,000 steps and 8-10 flights of stairs each day to reap the health benefits demonstrated by what the research tells us. Digital health products are positioned to do just that.
Other areas of interest for many people include tracking strength levels and body composition changes. There are some great products and apps for both—as well as some intriguing apps that have also come to market that can help develop healthy habits and in turn make the user more accountable, helping them “commit to get fit.” One of those apps is called Nudge.
According to one of the co-founders of Nudge, Mac Gambill, the product is a lifestyle health app that brings health and fitness data from apps and wearables together in one place to provide a simple, unified feedback system to help you live healthier.
“We let you sync your favorite health-related trackers, for example Fitbit, Runkeeper, or Sleep As Android, and give users easy-to-understand daily, and longer-term feedback for their overall lifestyle. Our Nudge Factor takes in data on four pillars of any healthy lifestyle—exercise, nutrition, hydration and sleep—and indexes it into a single score up to 110 to give the user a simple snapshot of how they are progressing. Nudge has also recently launched the NudgeCoach.”
It is an exciting time to be a player in the digital health game. From a technology and research standpoint, an individual has a better opportunity to develop healthy habits while making an impact on their health and fitness levels faster and smarter than ever before.
About the author: Michael Wood, CSCS, is a nationally recognized fitness expert and Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, a digital gym with more than 130 clubs open across the country. You can follow Michael on Twitter at @michaelwoodspg and on blog.kokofitclub.com and michaelwoodblog.com
1. Krogh-Madsen R, Thyfault JP, Broholm C, Mortensen OH, Olsen RH, Mounier R, Plomgaard P, van Hall G, Booth FW, and Pedersen, BK (2010). A 2-wk reduction of ambulatory activity attenuates peripheral insulin sensitivity. J. Applied Physiology, 108(5):1034-1040. Retrieved from http://jap.physiology.org/content/108/5/1034.
2. Schneider PL, Bassett DR, Thompson DL, Pronl NP, and Bielak KM (2006). Effects of a 10,000 Steps per Day Goal in Overweight Adults. Am J Health Promotion 21(2): 85-89. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17152246?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn
3. Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, et al. (2007). Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health. Journal American Medical Association 298(19):2296-2304. Retrieved from http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=209526&resultClick=3
4. Kennedy RA, Boreham, CA, et al. (2007). Evaluating the effects of a low volume stairclimbing programme on measures of health-related fitness in sedentary office workers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2007) 6, 448-454. Retrieved from https://www.stepjockey.com/content/docs/kennedy_et_al.pdf
5. Lee IM, and Paffenbarger RS (1998). Physical Activity and Stroke Incidence: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Stroke. 1998; 29: 2049-2054. Retrieved from http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/29/10/2049.long