The Final Mile of Digital Fitness

The Digital Fitness land rush is on.

In the last 90 days, Apple introduced its latest IPhone 5S with integrated fitness activity tracking; wearable fitness device maker FitBit raised $43M at a valuation estimated at north of $350M; and Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr took a Board seat behind his recent investment in exercise app, myfitnesspal.com.

Nike+, FitBit, Jawbone and the laundry list of wearable devices, activity trackers and apps have caught the attention of digital gadget lovers, Quantified Selfers and fitness enthusiasts. And it’s fired the imagination of health and technology players with a promise of helping get an overweight nation more active, and capturing vast stores of data that track our every move.

This current stage of innovation and excitement is the next and necessary step in a progression towards the full realization of the digital health and fitness future.  Here’s a brief recap:

Stage 1: The Social Beginning

While companies having been making a market for themselves with individual fitness technology products since the 90’s (e.g. Body Media recently purchased by Jawbone), the beginnings of the modern digital fitness movement really began to take shape with the beginning of social media.

Online communities formed around fitness in general and specific activities like running, swimming and biking. Besides offering plenty of content and social connectedness, they also gave people an ability to enter and track what they did for activity.  A good start, but constantly entering in what you do every day was sustainable for only the most dedicated.

Stage 2:  Today’s Device Wars

Nike and Apple then got together in 2006 to show the world that making a simple, inexpensive device that tracks all your runs automatically is a big idea. Today, the Nike+ community tracks roughly 20 million registered users every run and has spawned an entire industry of activity-tracking devices and apps.

Stage 3:  The “Invisible Future”

The promise of digital fitness will only be realized when it crosses over from serving mainly early technology adopters and the already fit to the mainstream. After all, they are the ones who need it most. And those are the people who will provide employers, insurers and healthcare organizations with the data they need to improve healthcare outcomes and lower the costs of care.

Call it the final mile of Digital Fitness.

The real payday will arrive when these technologies prove they can actually help turn large numbers of unhealthy people into healthy people.

What we have learned at Koko FitClub is that using the power of digital to help people get healthy requires much more than just tracking what someone does. It has to first make them want to exercise, in a way that’s simple and engaging so they can sustain it over the long-term.

To accomplish that I believe the technology must prescribe precisely what the user should do…and guide them as they do it, in real-time.

It has to continually adjust and vary their plan as they go, and motivate them in a continual feedback loop, just as a private coach would.

And, ideally, it must seamlessly integrate their exercise data into their medical records so that, together with their doctors, they have a single platform to measure,  manage, and view their health.

In short, the technology has to blend into their life before it can change their life.

From my point of view, the next and most promising stage of Digital Fitness will be when it becomes effectively invisible – a part of lives that we don’t even have to think about it, because it’s always there guiding us forward.

The payoff for the company or companies that successfully meet this need will be enormous.  It will be exciting to see who crosses the finish line first.

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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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