Using Health Data for Ongoing Accountability
By Lauren Shroyer, MS, ATC
With the rising popularity of wearable devices, comes access to health data. In my experience, clients have little understanding of what these numbers mean and how to use them in their pursuit of better health and fitness. To be honest, the value of this data on its own is small, but when coupled with an exercise program and good coaching, it can be a daily progress indicator.
Each operating system (OS) tracks something a little different. Depending on which device your client is using, you will have a choice of different indicators. The sheer number of indicators can be overwhelming, especially for someone new to exercise. Start with one data point and set a short term SMART goal (read my tips for setting great SMART goals here) and adapt it week by week.
Before you pick a data point to start tracking, consider a few things.
What are your client’s goals?
Is this a no-brainer? Maybe, but clients may seem to be stuck on an indicator they’ve heard about without really investigating what other data is available. Sit with your client and go through the options.
How can you set up a quick win?
You want to set your client up for success, so start out by finding a data point where they can be successful. If your client walks daily, but has a hard time with nutrition choices, choose a goal for steps or miles instead of average calories. Play off their strengths and build confidence.
What data can you, as their coach, see daily?
Ideally choose a goal that you can see. In the Remote Coach app, when clients link their Health Data, you can see your clients’ average daily steps, average daily calories, and average daily heart rate. This gives you the opportunity to message your client with a little nudge or a virtual high five. If health data isn’t linked, or you choose another marker, you can ask your client to message you daily with the results. Either way, the transparency of the data from client to coach will foster increased feelings of accountability.
Average Daily Steps
We all know that the 10,000 step-per-day goal is an arbitrary one. It roughly parses out to 5 miles, but there is no evidence to say that 10,000 steps or 5 miles of walking or running a day has any impact on health. That said, steps are an indicator of movement and movement does lead to better health. By looking at your client’s current average daily steps, you may choose to consider a goal of increasing this number by 10% each week, especially if your client is getting their exercise by running or walking. In that case, this data becomes an excellent indicator of increased cardiovascular activity.
Knowing your numbers, means knowing your progress!
Average Daily Heart Rate
Though averaging heart rate is another imprecise measurement, if your client’s goal is to exercise for longer periods of time, at a higher intensity, or more times per week, the average daily heart rate (ADHR) will increase if your client is successful. The Remote Coach app will show you your client’s ADHR, if data is linked, and by paying attention to this number week over week, you can use this as an indicator of activity. Then, give them a nudge if it seems that your client’s running shoes have been in the closet too long.
Workout Heart Rate
One of my favorite features on the RC app is the displayed workout heart rate and percent max heart rate. Oh the beauty of having this information at my disposal to ensure that my client’s heart rate is in the zone I intend. Whether we are aiming for a sustained heart rate elevation or a HIIT workout, this feature allows me to be precise without asking my panting client for an HR check every 30 seconds. Having this feature available to me also allows me to educate my client for their on demand workouts, so they are practicing good heart rate variability on their own. I can give them a maximum HR for personal HIIT workouts and a range for steady state exercise which allows them to better train autonomously when we aren’t training together.
Average Daily Calories
Average Daily Calories (ADC) is an ideal data point when coaching clients through weight loss; this gem provided by the RC app will help you and your client better understand how their eating habits are (or are not) serving their goal. Like ADHR, ADC is not a day-by-day tracker, but instead an indicator of 7-day calorie consumption. This will correlate strongly to weight loss and, as a coach, when you see this number rising, you’ll know it’s time to check in and ask what’s driving the change in calories. Likewise, consistent success deserves a congratulatory message in real time. A positive note of encouragement may make all the difference when faced with a slice of chocolate cake.
Heart Points, Sleep Tracking, Stand rings… oh my!
Each OS has different markers and it is good to understand the value of these, if only to explain them to your client. One of my favourite indicators of exercise is Google’s Wear OS Heart Points. In direct synergy with recommended exercise guidelines, when your heart rate indicates vigorous exercise, you are given two heart points, for moderate exercise you are given one heart point. Per these guidelines, a consistent minimum of 150 heart points each week can, over time, lead to health benefits. Set a goal to increase heart points each week and ask your client to check in daily.
Though not frequently set as a fitness goal, standing throughout the day is important to good health. The stand ring on the Apple Watch will track your standing minutes. Overall, a great ring to close every day.
Sleep tracking is a highly underutilized tool. Several apps, including Fitbit, track sleep. Good sleep is essential to overall good health and maintaining daily energy. I’ve had clients who averaged four hours of sleep each night…four! It’s very hard to maintain a consistent exercise routine if you are chronically tired and some research has linked sleep deprivation with overeating. If your client isn’t getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. You may choose to begin by tracking sleep and coaching good sleep hygiene. This may be the first domino to fall in a pattern of more exercise and better eating.
Regardless of the metric you choose to track with your client, become a coach. (Check out my article for more behavior change coaching tips.) This means that you collaborate with your client to set small goals each week, set your client up for success, and check in to keep the goal top of mind for both of you. This kind of premium service will transform your online fitness coaching.