mHealth and Social Fitness: Why Tweet Workouts or Your Weight?

Twitter & HealthSpending too much time with technology is often blamed for fitness problems, but Ted Vickey is looking to technology for a solution. Vickey is conducting social fitness research to find out why people tweet their workouts, and if mobile fitness apps can lead to a healthier life.

We need to take more accountability of our health.

After 11 years at the White House Athletic Center and running his own management consulting company, Vickey wanted to live in Ireland as part of his “bucket list.” He decided to conduct his research and get his PhD at the National University of Ireland Galway. Living in Europe made him realize obesity is a global problem, and one he wants to help solve.

In the last six months, Vickey has collected around 4.5 million tweets from mobile fitness apps that have an automatic tweet function. “I broke Excel!” he says, adding, “The reason we use Twitter is because all the information is public.”

From a mobile health perspective, Vickey says the value is in being able to track, have the numbers, and act upon those numbers, “We need to take more accountability of our health, and part of that is fitness. For instance, if you use RunKeeper, you can choose to send the information over to Microsoft Health Vault … and you can provide access to your physician to see all that information.”

Some other fitness apps Vickey is researching include:  DailyMileRunmeterNike+EndomondoMapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Withings.

Fitness Apps

Will doctors use the information these fitness apps provide from patients?

Having the fitness app data can allow for collaboration between physicians, nutritionists and personal trainers according to Vickey, “This is a bigger picture than just a physician.” He says physicians are limited in their education about fitness and exercise, “We are also doing a study … testing medical students on their knowledge of exercise and fitness.” He hopes the results will show the need to do more in this area.

So why would someone want to post their workouts or weight to Twitter?

Daily MileWhen working out or stepping on the scale, these apps can automatically send a tweet to Twitter and post it for the world to see. Vickey says DailyMile seems to have the most community interaction on Twitter, “A lot of people will congratulate each other.”

Jim @bikerly on Twitter says the support of a community helps with accountability, “The online social circle you create is entirely up to you. If you friend the right people, they can nudge you to do more than previously imagined. I post my exercise results through DailyMile. There’s something incredibly motivating about seeing a bar chart on the homepage. To leave an empty space on this graph pains me, so I usually post there every day.”

Vickey’s brother recently participated in the Washington D.C. marathon using the NikePlus app, “NikePlus put it on his Twitter page and his Facebook Page. When I saw it, I hit the ‘like’ button and my brother heard an audible cheer while running. This happened every time someone hit the like button. It was immediate feedback.”

What are the possibilities provided by these fitness apps? Privacy is always a concern. “What if health insurers incented users by providing discounts?” asks Jim @bikerly, “I’d love to see us use social media tools towards a model of wellness care.”

Vickey says, “My goal is to find out what we can do.” He invites those using these fitness apps to participate in his research by answering a 3-minute survey via his site at SocialFitPhD.com.

Listen now! To learn more about Vickey’s social fitness research and the various apps, listen to the interview now or download this 19-minute podcast for your next run or walk–fascinating work!
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Angela

Angela writes for HL7standards.com on health innovation, wearable tech, Quantified Self, IoT, mHealth, and future trends. Follow Angela on Twitter at @HealthIsCool.

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