Health

Achieve Anything with Lift

If you were to scroll through the top charts of the Health and Fitness category in either Apple or Google's app stores, you would find much repetition. Many of the apps accomplish the same goals, whether that be tracking your steps, helping you count calories, or providing a workout companion while at the gym. But there’s one app that is on a mission to do so much more: unlock human potential. Lift is an app that helps you achieve your goals through tracking, community, and coaching. Although many goals are health and fitness related, Lift also incorporates things that you normally wouldn’t consider play an impact on your well-being, like flossing, playing a musical instrument, or keeping a journal. Each different goal on Lift is accompanied by a question and answer section where you can utilize the vibrant community to find their favorite tools or get over tough roadblocks along the way.

 

IMG_1784  IMG_1786 Lift has also developed a growing database of challenges in categories like Meditation, Yoga, Cardio, and Strength Training. One of my favorite aspects of these plans is that they subtly incorporate BJ Fogg’s Behavior Change Model of tiny habits. Instead of suggesting intense workouts, each plan starts off with something that seems incredibly small and easy, like just holding a plank for 30 seconds. But as you progress through these month long challenges, the daily expenditure gets incrementally more challenging.

Recently, Lift has unveiled  1-on-1 coaching for $15/week: a big feature that will surely be an important inflection point for the app’s development. It will be interesting to observe how this new channel impacts user engagement with the Lift platform and how coaching gets enhancements over time. Using the coupon code COACHME, the first week is free right now! What are you waiting for? Give it a try and see what happens...

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Mobile Mindfulness

In 2013, I became interested in meditation as a form of developing mindfulness, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence to improve performance and general well-being. Like most people, I was incredibly skeptical at first. Sitting still and quiet has never been something I’ve found particularly enticing; I’m much more comfortable being constantly stimulated by music, TV, podcasts, and the internet. However, I've also noticed that in many ways, technology has shortened my attention span and altered the way I think and work. This has driven a personal interest in products that are able to flip the paradigm and have the opposite effect, sparking deep stages of productivity and calm.  

Throughout the last 15 months, I’ve had many false steps with starting and maintaining a meditation practice. I’ve often thought “I’m doing this wrong” or spent an entire session being unable to quiet my inner parade of thoughts. One toolkit that has proved immensely helpful in this regard has been the recent proliferation of meditation apps. My phone is within reach for almost the entire day, and I’ve found it extremely accessible to just plug in my headphones for 5 or 10 minutes for a brief break in my day to center myself. There are three apps that I’ve discovered in this space that might be helpful for others, no matter how skeptical of meditation you may be.

 


1. Calm

Calm is the meditation app I’ve used the most and found the most success with in advancing my practice. For $9.99/year, Calm provides access to a set of guided meditations of varying length and amount of instruction. You can scroll through different background environments, each with their own unique set of ambient noises, then select a guided meditation or simply set a timer for your desired amount of time. 

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Call me silly, but the simple feature that has got me to use Calm consistently is the “streak.” I love the feeling of progress that comes from seeing that I've been able to establish a daily habit, and I don't want to let myself down by not completing a session every day!

 


2. Headspace Narrated by a guy named Andy who does an amazing job of making meditation feel approachable, Headspace is quickly growing into a meditation community of users who absolutely love the product. Headspace starts with 10 sessions, each just 10 minutes, designed to get you familiar and comfortable with meditation practices and is a great jumping off point for anyone interested in flexing their mindfulness muscle.

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Stingy as I am, I haven’t explored the paid version of the app yet ($7.99/month), but based on the glowing reviews in the app store and growing community online, it’s sure to not disappoint.

 


3. Omvana

A product of Mindvalley Creations, which has an entire suite of mindfulness products, Omvana users are provided with a few free guided relaxations to start off, which you can mix with calming background noises for some pretty engaging effects. When you tire of the free tracks, Omvana has a paid library modeled on the iTunes store which makes for an intuitive design.

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The reason I haven’t experimented with Omvana more is that past the basic library, individual tracks cost around $5 each. Although it’s easy to see how some people would end up spending a lot on the product, I much prefer the subscription model with access to a full library.

 


These platforms are surely still in their infancy, but it will be interesting to see how their products and designs evolve with the introduction of HealthKit, wearable devices that can detect your respiratory rate, and other advances at the intersection of mindfulness and technology.

Eat Plants and Natural Foods. Not Too Much.

Many of my friends who are interested in improving their health reach out to me for advice regarding their nutritional intake. What foods should I eat to lose weight and get ripped? When should I eat them? Of all these fad diets, which one is right for me? Nutrition is a personal topic. Individuals respond to nutrient and caloric intake in different ways, but one thing rings true no matter who you are: diets don’t work. The mentality of using willpower to deprive yourself of things you enjoy is unsustainable and harmful in the long term. Simply said, the best “diet” is a nutritional lifestyle that you can stick to and makes you healthy and happy.

Despite millions of dollars spent annually on eating healthier, achieving nutritional goals is surprisingly difficult in today’s world. Americans are surrounded by processed foods, bombarded with advertisements from big food conglomerates, and led down misguided paths from government agencies lobbied by special interest groups. A well-known fact among the health and wellness community is that if you want to learn about nutrition, you’re going to have to do a lot of research and experimentation yourself.

After numerous stints tracking calories on SparkPeople and MyFitnessPal, eating a highly regimented 6 meal a day plan, experimenting with various macronutrient profiles, and doing a ton of scientific research, I have finally settled on a lifestyle that works for me: "Eat plants and natural foods. Not too much.”

What does that mean? My nutritional intake consists primarily of produce, protein, and healthy fats. That’s it. No special gimmicks. No strict portion control regimen. No pre-workout protein bars. No 100 calorie snack packs. When I go to the grocery store, I don’t buy anything that comes in a box. By sticking to the outside of the store, it’s easy to avoid unhealthy preservatives and fill up my cart with vegetables, fruit, nuts, and grass-fed protein.

It’s easy to poke holes in this strategy. I’m sure I’m not optimizing for muscle growth by eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, carb/protein cycling, or tracking my macronutrient intake to the gram. But the difference with this choice is that it’s easy to adhere to, it provides me with sustained energy throughout the day, and it creates a healthy relationship with my food. And isn’t that what really matters?

A September Experiment

Summer is my favorite season. I love being able to wear shorts all the time. I love the feeling of a cold beer on the back of your neck on a scorching day. I love how those hot days turn in to cool summer nights that seem to go on forever. This was one of the most fun summers I’ve ever had, but towards the end I began to realize the impact of my lifestyle. Between all that “fun”, regularly traveling for work and taking a night class, I had gotten into some bad habits that started taking a toll on my wallet and my well-being. I found myself drinking more often than not, even on weekday nights, which led to lower quality sleep and over-caffination the next day. In an attempt to regain some control over my daily habits, I underwent a September experiment: I wouldn’t drink for a whole month.

Now this might sound crazy for a 23 year old single guy living in one of the best cities in the country, but really though, how long is a month in the grand scheme of things?

It turns out a month is a very, verrrryyy long time. In the end, I made it 19 days before succumbing to a delicious IPA, but I learned quite a bit along the way. One thing I found incredibly interesting was that numerous friends who I told about my decision were considering similar stints of cutting back for a while or banishing booze altogether. If you’re interested, here’s a taste of what to expect:

Cons 

People won’t understand. From a purely scientific perspective, alcohol is horrible. It’s full of empty calories, it inhibits your decision-making, and too much will make you feel horrible the next day. But alcohol has become ingrained in our culture, and it’s a staple of being a young person in a city. Instead of having to justify yourself every time someone asks if you want a drink in a bar, just nurse a seltzer and lime. Be prepared to have fun in different ways. At first, I simply had a lot less “fun.” I didn’t go to parties with my friends, I removed myself from social situations once the booze started flowing, and I generally relegated myself to being the party pooper in the corner. But as the month progressed and I realized these decisions weren’t sustainable, I realized how important it was to find sober ways to let off steam on the weekend. It’s harder to make new friends. How many times have you walked up to an attractive guy/girl or someone you don’t know, and asked if they wanted a drink to get the conversation started? Alcohol is an incredible social lubricant, and one must be creative to make new friends while not drinking.

Pros 

Sleep cycle. The biggest positive impact was being able to fall asleep at the same time every night. Staying up until 3AM on the weekends had two huge negative consequences on my energy. First, I would often still wake up at 7AM on the weekends and be unable to fall back asleep, leaving me in a zombie-like state for the rest of the day. Second, it totally threw off my biological clock on a weekly basis, and it would usually take until Wednesday of the following week to finally be fully rested from a long weekend.

$$$$$$$$$. Alcohol costs a lot of money in Washington, D.C. A six pack runs upwards of $10, a drink at a bar probably averages about $5. Alcohol was a huge drain on my monthly income and it was AWESOME to remove it entirely for a few weeks.

Productive Weekends. Do you ever turn around on Sunday afternoon and wonder where the weekend went? You had some nagging tasks on your to-do list that needed to get done, but somehow the list ended up getting longer even though you had a few days off from work? Not drinking completely solved this problem for me. Waking up after 8 hours of sober sleep on a weekend morning is an invigorating feeling, and I was consistently able to seize the day. 


 

Once I broke the streak, the good news was I didn’t immediately return to my old ways, but in total I did end up having about 10 alcoholic drinks in the month. Looking back though, I feel more clear-headed, significantly healthier, and in more control of my daily lifestyle than I did a month ago, but I’m also looking forward to having a nice glass of red wine without making myself feel guilty.

Abstaining from alcohol isn’t for everyone. It takes a committed mind that is focused on the positive impacts in the future instead of the attitude of instant gratification that has become pervasive in today’s world. But if you arm yourself with the right mindset and learn from some of my mistakes, maybe you can cultivate the positive impacts you’re looking for.

TL;DNR - I didn’t drink for a while.

The Necessity of the Connected Self

Everyone who knows my passion for the intersection of Health and Technology reached out to me recently to get my thoughts on the Apple Watch. Does it seem like a sound investment? Will it be a FitBit & Jawbone killer? With all the fancy new features, will I finally be able to lose those last stubborn 10 pounds? Honestly, my excitement for the Apple Watch is tempered for the time being. It seems like a well-designed piece of hardware, but just collecting data is not enough to actually improve someone's health. More value will result from behavior change software that harnesses all this data to provide individuals with actionable insight. And with a price point starting at $349, it may be a few years until this type of device goes mainstream.

Peter Drucker readers know quite well that “what gets measured gets managed.” This was the original allure of the “Quantified Self" movement: If I can track my health metrics automatically, I should be able to get healthier. But health is a complicated combination of factors and just collecting data about your steps doesn’t paint the whole picture, especially if you’re eating a Snickers bar while taking a walk.

That’s why I’m much more excited about the potential of HealthKit, GoogleFit, and other connectivity platforms that promise to centralize previously disparate sources of data in the growing Health and Fitness application ecosystem. Hopefully, by enabling both medical professionals and developers with the opportunity to paint a more complete picture of an individual’s health, we can drive real outcomes in the healthcare system.

This is the promise of the “Connected Self”, a new frontier in Health and Wellness. I’m excited to see what these new technologies can accomplish.