So there’s a nice, shiny new place to track everything health-related. Why should anyone care about tracking their health? Valid question. At the beginning it can be difficult to see the benefits, as you don’t get much (if anything) back for your efforts. No reams of data to pore over or pretty graphs showing meaningful curves. Without that positive feedback early on it’s easy to just give up or forget about it. Maybe you don’t have an urgent need to track your health, which would affect your chances of maintaining interest even more.
To really experience the long-term benefits of health tracking, it should become part of your daily pattern. From this article on brain pickings, it suggests that simple tasks can take 21 days to become a habit. I’d like to think that using healthstored is a ‘simple task’, because it takes one minute a day to do, max. Even quicker with the app. So a mission of mine is to figure out how to keep people engaged enough for 21 days. Maybe a daily cat picture or something.
I figured I’d share what I’ve learnt while using healthstored, to show you some immediate and delayed benefits of health tracking. I’ve personally been tracking my health here for over a year (a privilege of being the developer) so I’ve been through the habit-forming stage, and experienced a lot of various positive results.
Set and forget
The first tangible benefit I saw was the offloading of the record from my mind. I could quickly throw a record into healthstored and forget about it. For tracking something pain-related like headaches, simply knowing it had been recorded was relaxing for me. A small thing, but anything that brought relief during a headache was welcome. As I monitored and recorded the lifecycle of the headache, knowing that each stage of it was securely noted down helped me move on and look ahead. The same went for something like a weight record. Make a record and forget about it.
One week in
The next benefit only came after a week or so. I felt a real sense of achievement from looking at graphs made up of my actual records. Obviously a graph showing only a week’s worth of data wasn’t mind-blowing, but it did give a real glimpse of what was possible given more time. I was seeing an objective layout of the data, rather than what my brain ambiguously decided to serve up for me.
This is more like it
Over time, the benefits from consistent health tracking were growing exponentially. For example, after a year I could look back and see that I had steadily lost weight, 8.96% to be exact. That sense of achievement would have been far less if I didn’t have documented records to back it up. I would know that I’d lost weight, but I wouldn’t know exactly how much. I also wouldn’t have been able to see my nice, steady downward curve on a graph (except Christmas funtime), showing me that my weight loss was indeed a result of my careful diet and exercise management over the year. Losing weight in this manner is much more healthy than the typical ‘fad diet -> drop a ton o’ weight -> lose focus -> gain weight -> repeat’. I had reaped a huge amount of satisfaction from spending 30 seconds a week weighing myself and adding the records to healthstored.
Unexpected findings (wow I drink a lot more in the summer)
I’ve had loads of other experiences finding true, exponential value when analysing data a week/month/year later. With a full year of data, I was able to see reliable reports showing a whole host of things, like what days I sleep least, percentage changes in all my body measurements, when I can expect my worst headaches, and my BMI over time.
Another well-known benefit of health-tracking is being able to confidently present comprehensive data to your doctor. No more random statements like ‘I get this problem around once a fortnight’, when really it’s more like ‘once mildly three weeks ago, then nothing for 4 days, then seriously for 18 hours, then nothing for another week, then on and off mildly for 6 days until today.’ And to ensure you can share the data with your doctor, you can either print out your graphs, or provide them with spreadsheets they can analyse how they like.
A major unexpected benefit was that of self-policing. I’ve found that by objectively noting down what I’m doing, it’s made me make some positive decisions I might not have otherwise made. For example, in healthstored I track alcohol. Knowing that if I have a beer, I have to ‘make it official’ with a record, I sometimes stop myself from having the beer. On the flip-side, if I miss out on my daily exercise, I know that there would be a gap in my exercise records, which is a motivator to make that walk to the gym. I honestly believe that this self-policing, and therefore healthstored, has helped me make a ton of positive health decisions. Over time these small decisions can create virtuous cycles, leading to big, positive changes in your well-being.
As time goes on, I expect many more new and unexpected benefits from my ever-growing dataset. Something I am looking forward to is watching my health habits over the years, for example, seeing how my sleep habits change with a first child (if some new human is unfortunate enough to come under my management), tracking that child’s progress, how life changes affect my alcohol intake, how my currently healthy blood pressure changes with age, and so on. So many things. Through periodic analysis like this, I will hopefully be able to spot trends and avoid a few health surprises along the way.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” so says Aristotle. I’ve found that making a habit of quick, simple health tracking is bringing ever exponential, varied health benefits. So if I can take more control of my health by spending up to one minute a day to record my various health bits, and 10 minutes a month to check up on myself by looking at some pretty graphs and reports, sign me up.
I’d love to hear what benefits you get from health tracking. Why did you start in the first place? Let me know in the comments below!