Each fall semester, second-year students at the U-M Medical School (UMMS) get a brief respite from the academic rigors of lectures, labs and exams. During the break, they have an opportunity to enroll in a variety of electives, exploring topics such as alternative medicine or Tai Chi. One elective offered in fall 2011 was “Tech Savvy Fitness,” led by Marc Stephens in UMMS Multimedia Development. In this elective, students learned about emerging trends in consumer health devices and personalized medicine, and gained a better understanding of how health data are created and used.
Relating our Data to our Lives
Stephens combined three of his passions—fitness, tech gadgets, and personal informatics—into this three-session mini-course. “I wanted to give the students first-hand experience using heart rate monitoring, weight and body composition, and body-space integration (GPS) tracking technologies as feedback-generating tools for their own personally-tailored fitness program,” explained Stephens.
During the first session, students were introduced to the Garmin Forerunner, a GPS-enabled sports watch that includes heart rate monitoring, among other functions. Students then went on a 45-minute walk, which ended with a sprint up the stairs from the Arboretum past the Survival Flight helicopter pad and back to the hospital. They uploaded their workout data for analysis on the Garmin Connect website, where they were able to see such things as distance covered, duration, average pace, elevation gain and calories burned during their walk.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Stephens also shared a variety of websites and applications that assist with diet, calorie counting, and weight tracking. Stephens uses the Weight Watchers mobile app and has found their points system and food/activity tracker to be helpful. But, for those who don’t want to pay $18 a month, many free or less expensive applications are available, including GoMeals for tracking calories and nutrition information, MyFood for monitoring vitamin intake, and Figwee for staying aware of portion sizes. For no-nonsense weight and body composition tracking, Stephens suggested FatWatch or Hacker’s Diet, which help users gain a better understanding of how their weight is changing by analyzing and displaying trends behind day-to-day shifts in body weight.
Second-year medical student Kellianne Kleeman added, “Beyond simply learning how to use a few neat and trendy gadgets, Marc introduced us to several tools which help to extract incredibly useful information. I learned the very important lesson of changing and expanding how I think about simple data collection and application. On deeper exploration, data collection is directly applicable to my life in many ways.”
Getting the Most out of your Sleep
Sleep is vital for a healthy lifestyle, and is especially coveted by anyone in medical school. To help the “Tech Savvy Fitness” students get the most out of their sleep cycles, Zeo, Inc. provided a Zeo Sleep Manager to each student during the course to monitor, analyze and gain a better understanding of their personal sleep data. The Zeo Sleep Manager is a consumer sleep-tracking product that lets users track the quality of their sleep by measuring sleep cycles with a wireless sensor. Erik Hofer, director of the UMMS Office of Enabling Technologies, shared some of his personal experiences with the Zeo. Hofer has been using the Zeo for almost two years to better understand his sleep patterns and adopt practices that maximize his potential for a good night’s rest.
Hofer, also a lecturer at the School of Information where he teaches a course in personal informatics, shared technology trends within the connected health domain and described the changing data landscape for managing health and wellness. Hofer explained, “There is currently an explosion in the number of consumer health products that help individuals collect and make sense of their health data. As future physicians, these students are likely to see patients who have been aggressively collecting, analyzing and managing their own health information.”
Lots of Alternatives
With the Garmin Forerunner 210 retailing for $249 and the Zeo Sleep Manager for $149 (or $99 for a mobile version), not everyone will be able to afford this type of equipment.
“There are plenty of cheaper or free alternatives, and everyone can benefit from some of the suggestions and practices I shared with the class and feel empowered by collecting and managing their personal informatics,” Stephens said.
Kleeman affirmed, “The process of gathering data is quite simple, and you can extract incredibly useful information from those seemingly superficial numbers. A wealth of information can be mined with very useful implications for people’s health—both on an individual, motivational level—and also on a professional level for me as a future physician.”
by: Susan Topol, UMMS Office of Enabling Technologies
Copyright 2011 the Regents of the University of Michigan. This article was written by Susan Topol and published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/>.