How to use data to live longer

The UK fitness market is estimated to be worth just under £5 billion. It has enabled extraordinary business growth among incumbents and startups on the scene. Influencer-favourite Gymshark, for instance, was founded by 19-year-old in 2012 and shot to a £100m business last year.

The potential is clearly enormous, and we have seen how a convergence of trends has enabled it: from healthy eating, to self-care, wearables that give us a confidence boost when we’re particularly active, and streaming exercise classes that ensure a flexible and affordable workout schedule. But as connectivity improves with the first implementation of 5G across the UK this year, more data and more control will be placed back into the hands of consumers.

This stands to highlight one constant that is frequently overlooked in a crowded culture increasingly proliferated with paid-for, ‘nutrition tips’ and weight-loss products by influencers: being active is meant to be for our body’s overall health and wellbeing, inside and out. It is not simply about exercise, losing weight and toning up for the ‘gram.

Facts: a generally inactive lifestyle is linked with a host of life-shortening diseases and high blood pressure. A generally active life is a good thing. But how do we become more… generally active?

"Making the ‘active choice’ will significantly increase your activity over the course of a week, become a habit and transform your health."

Tommy Parker, Digital Innovation Lead for KiActiv®

“The value of everyday activities might feel insignificant in isolation – washing up versus using a dishwasher, preparing meals rather than microwaving them, getting off the sofa occasionally rather than endlessly watching Netflix,” says Tommy Parker, Digital Innovation Lead for KiActiv®. “But making the ‘active choice’ will significantly increase your activity over the course of a week, become a habit and transform your health.”

KiActiv® uses clients’ body data to deliver personalised feedback to increase everyday physical activity within their daily routines. The company began its life helping professional athletes and high-net worth individuals reach their health and wellbeing goals. But quickly saw the potential for using accurate data to deliver the same improvements remotely for the wider population, and in a way that was scalable.

Inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, responsible for 6% of global deaths. Activity monitors can be misleading, with consumers believing they have done ‘enough’ if their steps tot up fast. A study published in Preventive Medicine and headed up by researchers at the University of Bath, who have collaborated with KiActiv® on other research, found that feedback from standard wearables is in fact not compatible with physician guidelines on the amount of exercise we need. “The guidelines refer to the amount of activity required on top of normal lifestyle activities,” say the researchers. “Without adjustment, people will erroneously form the view that they are exceeding recommendations by several fold.” The researchers point out that truly transformative physical activity is an everyday thing, and that if we can help consumers get to the ‘right’ data, the impact on behaviour change will be far greater.

How to intervene to encourage healthier habits, without being overbearing or didactic, remains a conundrum for healthcare providers. One path is to use emotion analytics to unlock behaviour drivers, so brands can speak to the real needs, anxieties and hopes every consumer has, tailoring the message to get the best outcome. We discuss how retailers and healthcare providers are working on just this today in our article, Injecting the self-care into healthcare will transform lives. But KiActiv® takes a far more direct approach – showing a user exactly how their personal data can be used to make daily incremental changes.

The company uses a wristband to measure all activity and movement, minute by minute, throughout the day. The data is uploaded to its online platform where it is analysed to provide personalised feedback. It began as a system to help people lower their risk of disease, but today it’s also being used to manage long term health conditions, and for preparation and recovery from surgical interventions. A personal mentor helps guide the behaviour change via a series of 20-minute-long phone sessions. The key, says Parker, is in not dictating what individuals should do and when they should do it but empowering them to choose how to change . That way, when the 12-week-long programme is up, they can have the confidence to keep it going by themselves.

“Our approach to physical activity isn’t about making you cover model ready, but rather giving you the best foundation upon which everything else can be built, whatever the goal” says Parker. “We can give you a new understanding of your own lifestyle. For us it’s about filling that information gap and helping people optimise what they are doing in everyday life for their recovery or general health.”

“The fitness industry is geared towards making people believe that exercise is the be all and end all – the clothing, the shoes etc. Their narrative has distorted people’s’ understanding of activity for health and created the strong bias towards exercise. So there is no value seen in everyday activities, which is incredibly damaging when the majority of the population are turned off by fitness and exercise. The charm and success of our approach is showing people the benefit and value of activities they already do, and that they know don’t hurt. This means that it’s accessible to everyone, at any time – you don’t have to be dressed up to do them, and that adds tremendously to the sustainability of behaviour change.”

After 12 months, 83% of KiActiv® users sustained their behaviour change, says Parker. For now, the company is largely working in the NHS to deliver the system to key groups – Type 2 diabetes sufferers with at least one other health condition, for instance. But it has the potential to help people with conditions that prevent them from doing vigorous exercise, including elderly individuals.

Communal exercise classes and gym memberships are hardly going away any time soon. But it shows another path that is particularly relevant to the self-care world we are living in today. With less funding, and more overburdened health practitioners, self-care needs to be about more than pampering moments. Self-care that focuses on our total health, and self-management of that trajectory, will simply keep us all alive longer.

If you want to learn more about the trends impacting healthcare, and how our emotion analytics can help you unlock behaviour-driving insights, get in touch: hello@happen.com

Read more: Injecting the self-care into healthcare will transform lives and Why Emotion Matters.