Health tracking has become more than a trend, for many it has become a necessity. Health tracking has almost become a normal way of life.
With different apps you can track your mood, heart rate, pulse, metabolism, calories, menstrual cycles, diet and more. Tracking your health is interesting but what does it all mean? What are the real reasons behind it and can it actually improve your lifestyle or behaviours to positively impact your health?
There is lots of powerful research regarding health tracking. We have broken it down into this article which covers.
Types of health tracking apps
Broadly speaking there are two types of tracking methods, apps and wearables. For now we will focus on apps in general.
According to currently divide tracking apps into the following 16 general categories:
- Activity & Fitness
- Data Collection
- Media Consumption
- Mind & Cognition
- Wealth or money
Some applications like Lab Me also include Aggregators & Dashboards. These are sites and apps that pull together data from various tracking sources into a unified view and often provide visualizations and correlations.
Lab Me takes all your blood data and simplifies it by making easy to understand visualizations while creating predictive insights.
Tracking your blood fluctuations over time which can be powerful in helping spot unhelpful trends or improvements in your health.
Motivations behind health tracking
According to Gimpel’s Five-Factor Framework of Self-Tracking – their were five principal reasons behind why people track their lives:
- self-healing = becoming healthier
- self-discipline = rewarding aspects of it
- self-design = control and optimize “yourself”
- self-association = associated with movement
- self-entertainment = entertainment value
Mark Koester had this to say regarding the motivations around health tracking: “Of the five motivations, individuals showed the highest adherence to self-healing and self-design. The researchers noted anecdotally that those motivated by self-healing often had “a certain rebellion against the healthcare system” and looking for alternative therapies too.
When it comes to self-design, trackers are often pursuing control over their lives: “No matter whether it is a self-tracker’s health, fitness, or mood, generally self-trackers are fascinated by the idea of controlling the way they are living by taking responsibility and optimizing their own lives.”
On a side note, a survey from Weber Shandwick and KRC Research in 2018 found that millennials have little trust in healthcare professionals.
However, Deloitte research found that 65% of tech savvy-seniors said that not only would they use such tracking devices but they are also more likely to share with their doctor.
The benefits of health tracking
Tracking your health has been linked to a range of benefits, including:
- increased levels of physical activity
- Improved diet choices
- Improved weight management & regulation
- Improved mental health — e.g. lowering stress and fatigue
How tracking can improve your health
Health tracking has been shown to increase positive behavior through reinforcement, self-awareness, increased motivation and better decision making. All of these benefits, lead to improved lifestyle choices and therefore an overall improvement in health.
Health tracking can help make you more aware of your behaviours and patterns — like how active or inactive you are. This lets you make more personalised lifestyle improvements, rather than following the one-size-fits-all approach.
Rapid and instant health data at your fingertips allows you to:
- Set goals
- Stay motivated
- Reinforce positive behaviours
The sense of achievement you feel when you get feedback that you’re doing well is often the driving force behind your improvement.
Advice & Coaching
A lot of health tracking tools also share personalised health advice with you. So you’re more aware of lifestyle changes that can help improve your health.
It’s common for health tracking tools to include features that let you engage with friends, family, and other users. Social factors like social support or competition have been shown to help keep you motivated and accountable.
Are there any downsides to health tracking?
Although there are numerous benefits to health tracking, downsides do exist. This is what we found.
There is a growing body of evidence showing that people are collecting data just for the sake of collecting data. In essence they become addicted to the behavior of tracking without actioning results.
While data can be a powerful tool, it can also be used improperly. For example, collection of data without consulting a doctor or collecting the wrong data..
This is typically seen in high performance individuals. They don’t necessarily want reminders or gamification (badges or rewards). If the app is offering those items, they can be an annoyance to the individual.
What we do know is that internal metrics such as your blood biomarkers serve as a powerful tool allowing you to see changes happening on the inside. While steps, sleep, diet and other tracking tools are useful, it doesn’t tell you how that is impacting your health on the inside.
Blood tracking on a regular basis can allow you to pivot your nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, recovery, medications, and monitor disease. Alongside, allowing you to potentially spot a disease before it happens.
Your blood biomarkers are insight into not only your health in the moment but your health into the future as well.
Gimpel, H. and Marcia Nißen. “TRACK THEIR OWN HEALTH.” (2013).
Attig, C., & Franke, T. (2019). I track, therefore I walk–Exploring the motivational costs of wearing activity trackers in actual users. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 127, 211-224.
Fritz, T., Huang, E. M., Murphy, G. C., & Zimmermann, T. (2014, April). Persuasive technology in the real world: a study of long-term use of activity sensing devices for fitness. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 487-496). ACM.
Economides, M., Martman, J., Bell, M. J., & Sanderson, B. (2018). Improvements in stress, affect, and irritability following brief use of a mindfulness-based smartphone app: a randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1584-1593.