Starting tomorrow, on November 1st, the National Novel Writing Month officially begins. The goal is for a concentrated month in which participants aim for at least 50,000 words written during that month (even though novels are generally 80,000 words). However, they do admit that the length they choose makes most novels turn out to be short novels or even novellas. Their reason being:
We don’t use the word “novella” because it doesn’t seem to impress people the way “novel” does.
Water for Elephants was written as a result of NaNoWriMo and later went on to become a major motion picture.
If there’s one thing this digital health revolution has brought us, it’s information — information about our well-being, sent straight to our smartphones and even teleported to our wrists.
But what do we do with this information? How often do we look at a lit screen, scroll down, and mutter to ourselves, “Oh, that’s how I fix that”?
Bridging this information-action gap seems to be the goal of the next generation of health-tech products. Base-level information no longer cuts it — new products also recognize the importance of context, as well as feedback. Here are six innovators we’re watching closely.
Say you’re in a yoga class, where the workout may not be as “obvious” to your fitness tracker as a traditional cardio class, which has lots of hopping around (and therefore, steps). Your tracker may only give you a couple steps’ worth of “credit,” even though you were hardly staying still the whole time. That’s where FocusMotion comes in.
The two-year-old, Los-Angeles-based company is the brainchild of business and engineering majors at the University of Michigan, who looked at the fitness tracker space as the Nike+ FuelBand emerged and “saw a huge opportunity to understand what people are doing contextually,” co-founder and chief operating officer Grant Hughes tells Yahoo Health. Unlike some other fitness trackers on the market, FocusMotion’s platform has the ability to recognize a pose and how long it’s held. “We wanted to give people ‘credit’ every time they go to a yoga class,” for example, Hughes explains.
But the logic applies beyond yoga — and, really, to anything involving movement. More recently, FocusMotion partnered with the Fitocracy app and the Pebble Time smartwatch, addressing the former’s pain point: It had an engaging social network, but its members were forced to manually input their workout data. Now, it has auto-tracking.
FocusMotion, which realized early on that it could gain more traction by partnering with other companies on its products, also has designs on guiding the physical therapy rehabilitation of post-op patients and even incorporating sensors in factory settings, where employees can be trained to work better, safer, and perhaps even faster. The use cases are unlimited. “Because we can understand what people are doing on a per-exercise, per-repetition, per-movement basis, developers can use the FocusMotion SDK to actually give people customized and targeted training plans based on what they want to achieve,” Hughes said. “And developers can monitor their progress and [how] they should intervene in order to help them get there quicker.”
Robin Berzin, MD, who trained in medicine at Columbia University, was doing the kind of work she believed in, recommending natural therapies — not pills — to treat her patients. But Berzin had a financial problem. “I couldn’t afford myself,” she tells Yahoo Health, without a hint irony. “And all my friends wanted to see me, and they couldn’t afford me either. … Functional medicine was really for the 1 percent. And nobody was using data or technology to make the process more seamless or modern; nobody (was) tracking outcomes; and nobody was making it affordable. My goal was to change that.”
The result, launched in February this year, is her very own Parsley Health. The philosophy is similar to her previous work — global, 360-degree support to help patients lead a healthier life — but the costs are not. “Health care should work the way the rest of the world works,” Berzin says. “It’s in the Dark Ages, in terms of using digital communications.”
The subscription-based Parsley gives members five annual visits (and unlimited health coaching) for the price of one at her old employer, in addition to discounts at partners such as yoga studios and physical therapists. That manila folder with your medical history? At Parsley, it’s completely online and accessible to both you and your coach; attachments can be uploaded and downloaded. Parsley deliberately doesn’t have a phone number.
There’s talk of the New York-based company opening an office in California if its tech front-end keeps up with its growing community of patients, who receive personalized programs from Berzin. Some people also choose to enroll in Parsley’s seven-day and 21-day detox programs. “A lot of people feel stuck, and they accept that ‘stuck’ is the norm,” Berzin says. “We’re in this awesome era where technology is empowering us to have more information, and a service like Parsley is giving you, in these targeted ways, a coach, a doctor, a program — the ways to get unstuck.”
Like many successful startups, Dhananja Jayalath’s came from thinking about money and time — more specifically, a lack of both. Then a student at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Jayalath and his classmate Chris Wiebe (the two would go on to co-found Athos) couldn’t afford a personal trainer, and they couldn’t spend all night in the gym teaching themselves. “With two guys working out together, there was also that sense of competition, of, ‘Oh, you’re doing more weight because you’re doing it wrong,’” Jayalath tells Yahoo Health.
Jayalath and Wiebe knew they wanted something that would produce valid data, which in turn would inform valid decisions. The end product: Tech clothing company Athos, which produces electromyography-powered clothing with sensors that can tell you, for example, if you’re overworking one muscle or underutilizing another, or breathing too hard or not hard enough. “We’re the (company) closest to telling you what you need to do,” Jayalath said. “Every piece of information you get is actionable.”
In the past year, Athos troubleshot the manufacturing of this smart-yet-machine-washable clothing. Consumers have taken to the product quickly — “knock on wood,” Jayalath says — though not all for the same reason. “Some people have worked out for many years and are using this to gauge how they’ve performed,” he said. “For another set of folks, it’s about accountability, like, ‘Yes, I worked hard enough, I hit my goal.’” What’s next for Athos? Iterating the software and varying the clothing styles to be smarter and more stylish.
Hyperice’s Vyper smart foam roller. (Photo courtesy of Hyperice)
Everything can be made smarter — even your foam roller. This is the stance taken byHyperice, which makes wearable recovery products for many problem areas, including your back and knees. Its Vyper roller vibrates at three speeds, has two hours of battery life, and claims to loosen and lengthen muscles before a workout (or to massage them after one).
The company often cites an August 2011 American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation study that concluded “vibration treatment was effective for attenuation of delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of range of motion after strenuous eccentric exercise.” And, hey, Hyperice’s technology is good enough for LeBron James’s right shoulder.
A wearable with superaccurate heart rate monitoring. (Photo: Mio Fuse)
On the surface, the Mio Fuse seems like just another device for your wrist — but runners in particular might find this one useful. Mio’s newest product takes advantage of the company’s EKG-level accuracy in heart rate monitoring, a boast that was confirmed by an April 2013 study conducted by a San Francisco State University researcher. (The device is smart, of course, because your heart rate can help you measure the intensity of your workout.)
The Fuse can also can track your pace during a run, while working the more traditional magic behind the scenes — number of steps and calories burned, plus app connectivity — when you’re not exerting yourself. It compares favorably to other training devices, although bicyclists may prefer the smart, heart rate-measuring helmet made by Israel-based LifeBeam.
Picking up where meditation-focused mobile apps like Headspace and its own Calm leave off, the Muse Headband comes personally recommended by Berzin of Parsley Health. Using electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical activity of the brain, Muse “passively detects changes in your brain” using the headband’s seven sensors. It also provides real-time feedback: Based on your brain signals, you’ll hear the sound of wind; an active mind causes louder gusts. And whether or not you’re an experienced meditator (can you start out with a three-minute meditation session?), the associated app tracks your “success.”
For anyone who has followed me for awhile knows that I am intrinsically a bit lazy. I don’t particularly hold a fondness for exercise nor do I particularly detest exercise. I nothing exercise in the sense that it is just something I have incorporated into my life in order to stay healthy. It’s kind of like kids and high school. There are those who spring out of bed everyday with a ear-to-ear smile who truly adored high school. There are those who absolutely hated every waking moment of high school. Then there are those of us mucks who endured it because it was a necessary milestone to endure. Fitness to me is just that – a necessity to staying healthy – not a choice.
This is the primary reason that my personal fitness motto is ‘biggest bang for my workout buck!’ (BBWOB) Essentially, I want to do the bare minimum in the least amount of time. I need an exercise which will build muscle, tone / define, and can be accomplished in as few movements as possible. And let me just toss out a disclaimer that I am not certified personal trainer nor am I any sort of fitness expert. I do however, am a little nerdy and spend hours in researching the latest & most efficient workout trends so that I can always maximize the results with minimum effort. This BBWOB approach is just what has worked for me in not only keeping the near 40lbs off for 2+ years but it has given me body definition I never thought possible. So please keep in mind what works for me may not be the right answer for you.
Now that is out of the way …
When I was transitioning from weight loss to maintaining, I slowly shifted my workout from all cardio to cardio with some form of strength training. Now when I hear strength training, my knee-jerk reaction is to think of traditional weight lifting; which sucks the happiness right out of my soul! Not because I hold any malice inclination towards the activity but because I know enough to comprehend the amount of time required to invest in it (refer to first sentence). I have always found the ‘heavy / serious’ lifting section of any gym to be very intimidating. It just makes me feel absurdly out-of-place, awkward, and reminiscent of being back in junior high school at that very first boy-girl dance. You know the one where all the girls tries to play it cool making small talk on one side of the gym while the boys awkwardly contemplate the distinct possibility of a public ‘no’ on the other? YES – that level of awkwardness. I can’t even tell you why but the minute I step on to the thick rubber mats in the free weight section of any gym I immediately feel like a fish out of water.
Aside from a major case of the inept, for the Ordinary Jane / Joe who is only looking to tone and define, who is not looking to bulk & exponentially increase muscle mass, enter physique/body competitions, or have any aspirations to be a serious weight lifter, the abundant time investment seem to be a bit of an overkill. However, the core concept of working muscle groups was a good one and it inspired me to look for exercises which targets the largest muscle groups in one or two movements.
Enter compound exercises. Compound exercise is defined as “… any exercise that involves the use of more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one larger muscle group that ends up doing the majority of the work, and then one or more smaller muscle groups that are recruited secondarily” (Source: A Workout Routine).One of the major benefits of many staple compound exercises can be done equipment free also known as bodyweight strength training. The dynamic dual allows me to work multiple muscles at once and no or very little equipment required was a natural win-win for me.
So here is a sample of my typical workout:
WHAT: Elliptical in various squat positions
DURATION: 30 minutes on high resistance. When the resistance gets too easy I bump it up. Started at Level 2 now I am at Level 6.
BBWOB TIP: Quality over Quantity – In order to maximize the benefits form matters. For the first few workouts, do push ups long ways of a mirror to check body positioning. Generally in the upright push up position, visually the body, arms and floor should form an almost right angle (See fitness model photo above).
WHAT: Three forms of Planks (Regular, High, Arms Up)
Ban gluten. Say good-bye to sugar. Give up carbs. No matter what diet you pick, the problem remains the same: Eventually, it ends.
Research shows that the vast majority of people who diet to lose weight end up gaining back some or all of the weight they lost, typically within a few years. And most of us who try lifestyle changes like cutting carbs or sugar only do so for a set period of time.
We recently asked exercise scientist Philip Stanforth, executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas and a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas, why that happens, and what people who want to lose weight and keep it off can do.
He says there is one key principle that should guide any decision to make a change about what you eat. And that’s “doing something you can maintain for the rest of your life.”
After the initial “dieting phase” of cutting calories, eating healthier food, and upping your workout regimen — experts recommend aiming to lose only a couple pounds a week by burning a few hundred more calories than you’re eating each day — you can start to make some small shifts back towards how you’d normally eat and workout, says Stanforth.
But overall, Stanforth says, “you still eat the same way [as you did when you started to eat healthier].”
Meaning that after you’ve lost a bit of weight, it’s normal to scale back a bit on your workouts and start to eat more calories each day. “But you still eat the same kinds of foods,” says Stanforth, because you’re in the mindset that, “this is how I’m going to eat for the rest of my life.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of dieting information doesn’t reflect this view. And that’s a mistake, Stanforth says.
“You know we tend to say you go on a diet, but that also implies you’re going to go off of it. And that’s not how we should be looking at this. Sometimes people are looking for the latest fad, but oftentimes it’s the fundamentals that are the most important and that make the biggest difference.”
I came across a status update in my MFP newsfeed the other day and it really resonated with me. The poster said something to the effect that she is proactively taking time for herself and that she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about wanting to keep herself in the ‘top 5’ of her priority list. Without knowing the specifics which instigated this bit of self-declaration, I can’t help but to admire her insight but I am also sadden that even in 2015, many – women specifically, feels obligated to justify this very intrinsic human need … to love oneself.
From very early on, I think most are taught to oppress our own wants and needs for the sake of others. And then we are continuously groomed that selfishness generally is a vile pursuit. But I think all the good intention in raising a better human being, many have somehow interpreted that as any form of self preservation is an agent of evil. But the reality of it is that we all need to be a little selfish in order to be the best version of ourselves.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
As wise old Bilbo the Hobbit so eloquently stated, sometimes I think we can all understand his sentiments of feeling a little ‘thin.’ And no one is a better caretaker of us than ourselves. So logically, in order for us to continue to be everyone else’s everything, doesn’t it make sense that our own wants and needs should be one of our top priorities?
We have to be our own best self-advocate because no one knows us better. Now I’m not saying forego all our responsibilities (whatever it maybe) with reckless abandonment. No. But what I am encouraging is that we should allow ourselves to purposely carve out time 100% guilt free. From my observations, a feat easier said than in put into practice, especially for mothers.
And perhaps it is this notion of total selflessness which serves as a stumbling block for many to be successful in weight loss maintenance because in order to keep the weight off, we have to make our own health a priority. Otherwise, the daily grind makes it far too easy to revert back to old habits.
It takes a certain level of self-perseverance, selfishness, self worth, whatever label it maybe – one has to have it to remain steadfast in our food repertoire as well as fitness routine. And no one should feel guilty about that … ever!
I think the quote below is a good one to file in the back of our minds so that we can all continue to be successful … remember our environment has tremendous hold over our own well being, and environment includes the people who are in our lives … for better or for worse.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Why I am a bodyweight strength training fangirl …
Believe it or not, I was within 2 lbs in all three photos below although I look ‘slimmer’ in the far right one. How is this possible? It’s the miraculous difference between what I have affectionately dubbed ‘doughy thin’ and ‘toned slender.’
It is hard to believe that a few toned & defined muscle here & there can make such a visual impact but it does. Aside from looking more healthy, there is an even more pertinent reason to build muscles.
Muscles uses more fuel to sustain itself, therefore increased muscle mass means more calories burned. And as we age, we lose muscles so unless we want to eat less and less calories in order to compensate for the muscle loss or do more & more cardio; the only viable alternative is to increase what we already have.
Bodyweight strength training is a wonderful method to doing just that. Unless one has aspirations to overly bulk or enter in physique competitions, the average Jane or Joe really only needs to tone & define without the traditional approach to lift weights.
One of the main benefits of bodyweight strength training is that it can be done anywhere at any time – equipment free, no gym required. Bodyweight strength training also offers less opportunity for injury because there’s no extra weight to support (weights). And there are essentially an endless amount of variation to increase level of difficulty.
For a very long time I did follow a rather strict lifting regiment but I saw very little results and was starting to have elbow and shoulder issues. After some research, I reverted to what I was familiar with from my days in the Army … basic calisthenics of push ups, pull ups, and planks.
My daily exercise routine consists of 30 minutes of elliptical (high resistance for leg muscles), variety of push ups (triceps, regular, wide arm) alternating with variety of planks (regular, high, arms up) for 1 minute, then variation of pull ups (bicep, regular, wide arm). Now just keep in mind that ANY form of strength training is a painfully slow process regardless of method so be patient, be very very patient. The results below are after almost two years of work.
drum rolls please ….
I lifted nothing but my own bodyweight. Consistency is key.