Greetings from my treadmill desk, where I’m typing while walking at the fearsome speed of 2 km/h.
Every step I take is counted towards my daily goal of 8,000 steps—a goal that my fitness coach has set for me. But that’s not the only thing I report: I also log my macros, sleep, and water intake. That’s all in addition to recording my workouts and letting my coach know how tough they were on a scale of one to death.
And I know I’m not the only one. You probably also own a fitness tracker, or have a few apps that monitor various aspects of your health. Your smartphone is likely even logging your steps using its accelerometer, whether you want it to or not. Some of these might be AI-assisted or powered by an algorithm that learns and predicts when your REM sleep begins. Some gamify your health habits or create a social experience to make things more fun.
But are we just a tad too obsessive with quantifying our health? The fitness tracker industry is expected to have a compounded annual growth rate of 15.4% from now until 2028, where it’s predicted to reach over USD 114 billion. That’s a lot of people wearing trackers. But what about the concept of “living intuitively”—eating wholesome natural food without counting its macros, or taking a walk just because?
Perhaps one of the reasons health tracking has become so popular is that living intuitively doesn’t really work in the urban environment most of us live in. It sounds good if you happen to live in the countryside with plenty of fresh organic produce available and not much work to do other than on the farm. But our urban surroundings are designed for convenience and consumerism, not so much health. It’s pretty likely that “living intuitively” for most of us would look something like getting pizza and wine with friends, falling asleep on the couch after work, or perhaps the occasional walk with our dog.
In such an environment, it takes mindful practice and conscious cultivation to create better habits for our mind and body—something health tracking helps us to do. But tracking alone isn’t enough to make us healthier because it only gives us data. Real improvement only happens when we take action based on that data. Constantly going over your caloric count? Choose better meals. Always feeling tired? Check your sleep data and adjust your bedtime.
It’s definitely possible that health trackers can help us take action in the future, especially with smarter algorithms and better IoT integration. They might be able to call an ambulance, integrate telehealth consultation features, or perhaps deliver medicine when our supply is running low. Heck, with apps like IFTTT and Zapier, it’s already possible to get our home to automatically switch off our lights when we’re asleep. The only thing trackers can’t do is push us onto a treadmill… yet. Until that time —or even when that time comes—the ownership of our health lies with us, not in a piece of wearable tech.
All opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and do not represent the views of KrASIA. Questions, concerns, or fun facts can be sent to [email protected].