Why I love quantified living

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The other day I bought a heart rate monitor from Lidl for £16. It works with my iPhone and a whole load of apps. It tells me how I’m doing in all kinds of different ways — especially for how many calories I am burning vs eating. I would say that it is making me exercise more — because I am thinking about the numbers.

Data and analytics have had a massive impact in healthcare and fitness.

Watson — IBM’s cognitive computer — can digest and analyze vast amounts of cancer research to the point where it can diagnose certain types of the disease more accurately than experienced human oncologists. And advanced analyses of cancer genomes are enabling more precise and personalized treatments that are showing great promise for extending and improving life expectancies of cancer patients.

Smartphones too have helped healthcare providers serve patients in remote areas lacking access to dependable medical facilities. Even people who are lucky enough to have doctors’ offices and hospitals nearby are now able to quickly check in for short consultations with a physician using their phones.

Apple this year released its iPhone-based Research Kit to connect medical researchers with patients suffering from chronic diseases; the company says the data provided by users through the app will help physicians develop better prevention programs and treatments for conditions like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson’s.

Apple’s iOS operating system has seen widespread adoption by enterprise users. The company is teaming up with IBM to roll out a wide variety of new apps for healthcare professionals.

Among the MobileFirst applications the two companies have developed so far are Hospital RN, Hospital Lead, Hospital Tech and Home RN. Hospital RN, for example, lets nurses view data on nearby patients with the help of location-based iBeacon technology as they move through a facility.

While wearable devices show great promise for improving care for homebound and hospitalized patients, people with less serious health conditions that still bear regular watching are also finding them useful. Marathoner Alex Collins, for instance — whose experience was recently profiled by Bloomberg — uses health monitors to carefully track insulin, blood sugar, carbohydrate intake and activity levels to stay in condition and better manage his Type 1 diabetes.

Michael Forrest, another man described in the Bloomberg article, has developed his own app — called Happiness — to keep a close eye on changes in his mental state to watch out for signs of trouble and avoid the need for drastic medical intervention.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, envisions even more all-encompassing health benefits from software-based tools. He focuses his attention on apps like Timeful that can help people lead lives that are not only healthier but more meaningful and fulfilling as well.

He says: “I think data and technology approaches that look at what we do, how we live and that map other elements to it, such as happiness and quality of life, can actually help us make much better decisions.”

I agree.

To a point.

I think it’s hard to manage everything through apps — and I wouldn’t want to. Apps don’t stop me acting on impulse and eating all the biscuits. I wish they did.

But they do give me a way of managing my thinking around that problem — so right now I am doing it less.

So for £16 and a daily check in on MyFitnessPal — I reckon that’s good value.

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