November 2, 2010

The quantified self: 6 tools to help you get started

The quantified self movement is really starting to gain some steam, mostly on account of a slew of new technologies and services that are making personalized metrics easier and more meaningful. It's truly a case where the dream is coming true; in short order we will be able to track the most minute details of our body's functioning, have that data analyzed, and given a set of prescriptions to help us optimize our health based on a predetermined set of goals.

We're not totally there yet, but that day is quickly approaching. Imagine a system that can tell you your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio and what you need to do to get it in balance. It could let you know when your iron levels are too low. Or if your LDL cholesterol is too high and what you need to do to raise your HDL levels. A fully realized system will notify you of any problem and let you know what to do about it. When it comes to our health concerns, there will be no more fumbling in the dark.

But there's more to the quantified self movement than just tracking health factors: it's also about self-experimentation. People are looking to better understand their own bodies and behavior. This kind of self-evaluation can be as straight-forward as assessing your performance on or off caffeine, or something more profound like measuring the potential cognitive boosting effects of modafinil. With this empirical approach, the sky's the limit in terms of possibilities.

Regardless of your motives, there are some things you can do today to get started in your quantified self practices. Here are some suggestions:

1. Google Health

Google Health is an online central repository for you to store and share your medical data with whomever you want. You can act on all your health and wellness concerns, engage in data tracking, increase personalization and set and track progress toward health goals. It features an easy-to-use dashboard that brings together your health and wellness information in one place and makes it easier for you to organize and act on that information. Participants can track wellness and wellness goals, including the recording of daily experiences.

2. Personalized genetic testing

Despite some recent setbacks, the personalized genomics movement is steadily gaining in popularity. Companies like 23andMe are empowering individuals with the genetic information they need to better understand who they are and their potential health trajectory. For less than $500, you can learn about your genetic traits, vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and even ancestry. Armed with this information, you can more knowingly set up preventive health programs for yourself and avoid potential problems later in life.

3. CureTogether

CureTogether provides free tools to help you track your sleep, weight, caloric intake, and exercise. You can also compare your symptoms and treatments for 212 conditions with the community of CureTogether members. In addition, anonymous, free, aggregate data is used for open source health research.

4. BodyMedia Armband

BodyMedia recently announced that its armband sensors will be able to communicate wirelessly with smartphones via Bluetooth. Its health sensors will be one of the first devices, other than ear buds, that link to smartphones with Bluetooth short-range communications. The device is poised to allows users to monitor a collection of nearly 9,000 variables—physical activity, calories burned, body heat, sleep efficiency and others—collected by the sensors in a BodyMedia armband in real-time, as the day goes by. The Bluetooth-enabled armband will cost $249 and the BodyMedia data service will cost $7 a month.

5. Zeo

Zeo is a program that is designed to help you analyze your sleep and improve it. It’s composed of a lightweight wireless headband, a bedside display, a set of online analytical tools, and an email-based personalized coaching program. It works accordingly to a three step process in which you sleep with the wireless headband, view the data that's recorded, and act on tips and assessments received through email-based coaching.

6. Fitbit

The Fitbit is a wearable device that tracks your calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled and sleep quality. It contains a 3D motion sensor like the one found in the Nintendo Wii. The Fitbit tracks your motion in three dimensions and converts this into useful information about your daily activities. The device can be worn on your waist, in your pocket or on undergarments. At night, you can wear the Fitbit clipped to the included wristband in order to track your sleep. Anytime you walk by the included wireless base station, data from your Fitbit is silently uploaded in the background to

So, what are you waiting for? Go quantify yourself!


Eric Boyd said...

And then come out and talk about it! There are quantified self meetups in a half a dozen cities now, including right here in Toronto:

ZarPaulus said...

Ugh, another health cult. When will people learn that nothing works the same for everyone?

Alexandra Carmichael said...

Hi George,
Thanks for the shoutout for CureTogether, and such a great QS post!

I hope you'll make it out to a meetup, as Eric said. It's definitely true that different people respond differently to things, which is why hearing people's stories about self-tracking is so interesting. Very often you come away with a new connection to the one person like you who is interested in the same thing or has the same response you do!

I'd also love to hear if you track anything yourself, and what you've learned in the process.

Be well,
Alex :)
Alexandra Carmichael
Co-Founder, CureTogether
Director, Quantified Self