Great New York Times post on how sitting can be “lethal” for your health and offset the gains of exercise. As problematic as sedentary lifestyles are in the home, they’re even more problematic in the workplace.
- In corporate settings not involving manual labor, most employees conservatively spend >50% of their day sitting in a standard chair, likely hunched over their computer screens. This includes people that may lead a healthy lifestyle outside the office environment. In other words, the stress of work pushes even the healthy among us to adopt unhealthy behavior.
- In a previous post, we highlighted the importance of social proximity in motivating decisions. Christakis and Fowler’s research suggests that clusters have a powerful effect on individuals in proximity or embedded in the group. What that means is that if there are sedentary people around you (i.e. your co-workers), you are more likely to move closer to their lifestyle, at least in the work environment. The dangerous epidemiological impact of the workplace setting is something that should weigh on the mind of every corporate executive when structuring wellness programs.
There’s good news though. As much as the workplace environment can spread bad habits, employees and managers are also well positioned to spread good habits. And if the Mayo Clinic research is accurate, simple changes, such as reminding employees to “fidget”, walk around, and “chew gum” may have an enormous impact. However, these reminders must be embedded in the culture, workflow, and wellness programs of companies to maximize impact.
Now it’s time to stand up and find my red stapler…
It’s a big day here in Boston – Marathon Monday. Every year, we get a nice dose of inspiration as thousands of runners descend upon Boston for the marathon. I feel more motivated just walking around the finish line area.
One thing in particular struck me over the last few days. You hardly ever see a marathon participant by him or herself. Next to almost every excited runner with a race packet, you’ll typically see 3-4 family members or friends (nothing scientific here, just my ballpark).
Seeing friends and family supporting participants serves as a powerful reminder. Social support is a key ingredient as one pursues health/fitness goals (many studies have demonstrated this). At EveryFit, we are constantly looking for ways to make social support seamless, so that more people can reap the benefits.
Congratulations to all of those participating in the marathon. Looks like a great day for you and your friends/family.
What are some of the obstacles that keep people from making healthy decisions?
BJ Fogg has been a long-time advocate of mobile persuasion and the upcoming Mobile Health Conference at Stanford promises to bring together some of the leading thinkers and technologies in the space. At a panel at SXSW in March, Fogg along with a few relevant researchers and practitioners identified some of the challenges in mobile health.
Four problems identified by the panel:
*Sloppy behavior change strategies – agree. it’s no easy task to move people to change, but as we pointed out in our previous post, there needs to be a shift in incentives towards short-term, achievable outcomes that consumers can reasonably sustain.
*Data silos – for sure. no one wants to log into 3,000 sites to enter their health information, whether it’s available through a mobile app or not. No way, no how, not gonna happen for most people. Data silos kill user compliance and, unfortunately, most apps are so focused on building their proprietary advantage that they overlook the value of interoperability and data integration.
*Market problem is not with patients – completely agree. Treatment is far more expensive and harder to catalyze than prevention, which is why mobile persuasion should focus on prevention.
*People are illogical about their health – so true. Individual approaches to health and fitness are laced with idiosyncrasies that the mobile app market is just starting to address. Social and emotional motivation can be powerful catalysts for change.
Cost is still prohibitive for the 95% of consumers that don’t care for expensive heart rate monitors and other measurement equipment that spit out unactionable, mundane feedback.
At EveryFit, we believe the balance between cost of measurement, personalized persuasion, and actionable feedback will ultimately win over consumers in the mobile health market.
If you plan to attend the conference at Stanford, we would love to connect with you. Feel free to drop us a line!
Participants in an exercise study (recapped here) performed the same exercise on a treadmill that did not provide any numerical feedback (calories, time, etc.). When asked how many calories they had burned, participants overestimated their calorie burn by 3x to 4x on average! Then the participants were given the opportunity to eat from a buffet to compensate for their exercise (again without knowing calories burned). The food they selected on average had 2x to 3x more calories than they had actually burned.
Low cost gyms have been around for a while, but in the last year, growth of these gyms has accelerated. Is this a positive or negative development for the industry and fitness consumers? I think it can be positive, assuming the lower cost offering targets the proper audience. However, companies that create low cost business models that don’t line up with target user needs are hurting the perception and sustainability of the industry. I recently saw a profile of Planet Fitness comparing the company to Southwest Airlines. It’s a tempting comparison, since both companies have low cost strategies and have experienced great success in their respective markets. However, I see this as an inappropriate comparison. Like Southwest, Planet Fitness has lowered customer prices ($10 per month on average compared to $30+ per month industry average). However, unlike Southwest, I don’t see how the company has fundamentally improved the experience for the target customer. Southwest initially targeted business travelers and added significant value. The company created a culture and business model that made business travel easier. A few examples:
- Southwest standardized planes, allowing the company to make quicker and cheaper repairs, leading to fewer delays.
- Southwest created a culture where every employee cared about customer service. Average delay time decreased because planes could be turned around for the next flight much quicker (even Southwest pilots are known to help in cleaning up the seats between flights).
- Southwest selected airports that were very closer to major urban areas to reduce overall travel time for business customers.
- Southwest developed a new boarding system that reduced boarding time and led to more flights leaving on time.
- Southwest focused on specific routes popular to business travelers, avoiding the problematic hub and spoke model and providing flexibility by offering a lot more flight times for each route.
Many of these changes led to lower cost. However, most importantly, the changes led to increased value for their target customer. Business travelers, who care most about on time flights, found it much more efficient to travel on Southwest Airlines. Sure Southwest cut amenities (e.g. food, pre-assigned seats, etc), but these were amenities that the business traveler didn’t mind giving up. Looking at Planet Fitness, I fail to see how the comparison extends beyond low cost. The target customer is a casual, often first time gym member. As a casual gym member that has tried Planet Fitness, I cannot see how this model was developed to serve my needs specifically. The company has eliminated the amenities that I like (e.g. towels, free shampoo and lockers big enough to hang clothes). These are the things that make it more likely that a casual member will develop a consistent exercise routine. The key value that Planet Fitness purportedly delivers for casual gym members is fewer grunting “meatheads” and less judgment in the gym. These fixes are not high on my needs list and, even if they were, I think the policies are nearly impossible to enforce effectively. Ironically, the low frills model seems best suited for the users Planet Fitness is explicitly avoiding – hardcore gym rats or meatheads. This is an important issue in the fitness industry as other gyms are also pursuing the low-cost market. There is certainly an opportunity here. However, I think the most successful in this category will most effectively match the model with the right target customer. It can’t be just about lowering prices. It has to be about delivering more value to a specific group of customers. Otherwise I don’t believe it is sustainable.
Absolutely true. According to a recent study  from the Human Performance Center at the University of California at San Francisco, cardio machines overestimate calories by 19%. The worst estimates come from elliptical trainers that overestimate calories by a staggering 42%. Highly skewed caloric estimates misinform users which can have detrimental short-term and long-term impact on users’ energy balance (i.e. the balance of calories consumed versus calories burned). For example, a user who thinks she burned 800 calories in a workout while she really burned 600 calories may choose to eat an evening meal with higher calories. Summing up the difference in calories over the course of a year can mean the difference between losing weight and gaining weight.
A number of factors may contribute to machines overestimating calories. First, manufacturers are inclined to overestimate rather than underestimate because a higher calorie burn can provide at least some users with a higher sense of accomplishment that in turn makes them feel better about exercising and increases chances that they might continue to exercise. Second, manufacturers want to increase the popularity of their machines to increase sales. An obvious way to achieve this is to make users work less while burning more. Third, machines do not adjust for wear and tear which can lead to overestimation. Finally, machines do not account for users’ metabolic rates, fitness levels and differences in body composition.
With all that in mind, you should be skeptical of the calories you see on a machine on your next visit to the gym.
1. Don’t Get Burned by Calorie Counters. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/exercise-calorie-counters-work/story?i.... Accessed on March 8th 2011.
Movie theaters, grocery stores, hardware stores, and, of course, fitness centers, all want to use the internet to continue the conversation with customers outside of their primary interactions. Typically, these companies are generating tons of relevant content with hopes of drawing customers to the site.
But focusing on content alone is probably not the winning formula. The most engaging websites are not the ones with the most content, but the ones with the most information that I can onlyfind on their site in an efficient manner (Facebook is a great example).
Take a company like Whole Foods, a place where I occasionally shop. If I visit their website, I can find a lot of information about eating healthy. There are recipe recommendations, daily tips and a frequently updated blog. Seems like useful stuff, but I hardly ever go to the site. In fact, the only time I can ever remember visiting was when I needed to find the store hours. Why? Because the Whole Foods website is likely the only place I can find the hours for my local store.
For all of the other information on Whole Foods’ website (health tips, recipes, etc.), I’m more likely to do a Google search so I can get exactly the information I want. If it happens to be through Whole Foods, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. I’m just not going to visit Whole Foods first and hope the information I want is there.
This same situation exists with fitness centers. We talked to gym members last fall about their likelihood of visiting their gym’s website. The most common reason to visit the gym’s website: viewing the class schedule or gym hours. Again, members are drawn by something that they could only find on that site. All of the other content may be great, but it doesn’t seem to be the primary draw for members.
So, what can be done to better engage customers on the web? Provide more information that the customer can only find on your site. For example, if all of my purchases were automatically tracked on the site, Whole Foods could provide very relevant content to me. This content might include new product recommendations based on my order history, recipes specifically tailored to the products I’ve bought and suggestions for adding important elements to my diet that may be missing.
With content provided based on my personal profile, the Whole Foods’ website becomes more practical than a Google search. The information I want can be provided to me automatically, perhaps even before I know that I want it. That’s engaging.
Outrunning your fear. Relentlessly pursuing the truth. Racking up the Benjamins. Not letting your loved ones down or, better yet, making them proud…so what’s it gonna be then, eh?
The best motivation is self-motivation, but if health trends in the United States are any indication, self-motivation to exercise and eat healthy is hard to come by, especially when life gets in the way.
With that in mind, the question turns to how external players can motivate you to change short- or long-term behavior. There are a number of players that may be competing, either directly or indirectly, for a place in your heart and mind: your dog, your best friend, President Obama, your 8th-grade soccer coach, the cast of Glee, strangers on the subway, your mobile phone, the classic tale “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the planet Neptune, etc. In a nutshell, everyone and everything may have a place, and it’s the priority that you assign to these players and possessions, as well as their social proximity to you, that will impact your decisions.
If we were to sketch this out, one potential social map may look like this:
Now the priority of these players in motivating you will likely vary depending upon the subject matter or call to action. If you’re an astronomer, Neptune probably has more emotional/intellectual value to you than a stranger on the subway. If you’re talking about politics, you’re probably going to give more merit to Obama’s perspective on health insurance than that of your dog or the cast of Glee. Beyond social and emotional proximity, a player’s credibility/domain expertise can outweigh emotional attachment in motivating behavioral change.
So returning to the question above about whether fear, truth, money, or love motivate you most, they all do to varying degrees depending upon context, credibility, and proximity. And that points to a lot of exciting possibilities for nudging you to change. For example, best friends and mobile phones tend to fall into the inner circle of credible, emotionally significant, and immediately relevant messengers in your life. So why not give these friends and instruments the power to scare the hell out of you, educate you, compete with you (maybe for money), and—dare we say—love you?!
Why are fads and gimmicks so prevalent in the fitness industry? Kim Kardashian reminded us in her Super Bowl advertisement for Skechers.
Here’s the gist: Kim dumps her personal trainer in favor of a pair of Skechers Shape Up Shoes. Apparently, the shoes are all she needs to stay in great shape. The commercial ends with Kardashian saying “Bye, bye trainer. Hello Shape-ups.”
It’s obvious now why over 60% of the US population is obese – it’s the shoes! All of us simply need to buy a pair of Skechers and it will only be a matter of time before we are as fit as Kim Kardashian. It’s so simple.
Joking aside, I think this will actually be a successful campaign for Skechers. The company took a page out of the “faddish exercise products” book. You know these products. These are the ones that gather dust in closets and garages across the US. In promoting a faddish exercise product, the playbook says to make getting in shape seem as simple as possible. How simple? You only need to pick the right shoes (Skechers), hold a shaking dumbbell (Shake Weight) or stand on a vibrating platform (Power Plate).
Why do we always fall for these fads and gimmicks? Because the one path to a fit lifestyle that has stood the test of time, proper nutrition and regular exercise, is so difficult to achieve. It’s not fun. It’s very frustrating. Any short-cut, no matter how ridiculous, seems worth trying.
At EveryFit, we think the answer is not more shortcuts, but supportive solutions that make the long, often difficult, road towards a healthier lifestyle a smoother ride. We won’t tell you that getting in great shape is easy, but we will try our best to make it easier.
This past fall, we interviewed almost 40 people about their exercise habits. Based on these interviews, we have identified 6 of the most common “exercise personalities”. We believe that it is critical to develop programs and applications with these distinct groups of users in mind. Hopefully these profile descriptions will help.
**Special thanks to our artist for all of the work on these images.