How “Sticky” Are You When It Comes To Health?

When it comes to health and fitness, even the best intentions won’t get you far if you don’t stick with the plan.

That’s the thinking behind a new fitness tracking and motivational nudging service, called Wellocracy, that seeks to get at a person’s “stickiness” quotient. In other words, how likely is he or she to stay engaged with one of the myriad health and fitness apps currently available?

It’s the brainchild of Dr. Joseph Kvedar, founder and director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare, the dominant hospital system in the state. I spoke with him recently about the concept of “stickiness” and the new service.

“Part of the reason we launched this effort is because we studied for about 10 years why patients adopt these technologies,” Kvedar says. “We were trying to reach people who could benefit from self-tracking as a health-improvement strategy, but either don’t know about it or find it confusing and frustrating.”

He pointed to an October 2013 survey of 2,014 adults in the U.S. which found the following about fitness-tracking behavior:

• Sixty-eight percent say encouragement from family and friends is important for achieving health goals.
• More than half of respondents aged 35-44 found it difficult to stay motivated to live in a healthier way.
• Sixty-five percent think tracking their health using a device, website or app would be beneficial, including 32% who felt it could keep them motivated in pursuing health and/or fitness. About half of those 18-44 agree that easy-to-use tracking tools are essential to following through with their health goals.
• Eighty-six percent say feeling informed about the status of their health is empowering.

Given the widespread endorsement of fitness tracking, one might think it a fairly common practice. On the contrary; the survey found the following:

The majority of consumers (56%) have never used any type of health tracking device, app or website. Younger adults, aged 18-34, were most likely to use diet (23%) or fitness apps (26%) on their phones. 7% of adults aged 55 and over had reported ever using a diet app and only 3% have used a fitness app on their phone . . . Only 5% adults aged 18 and over reported ever using a sleep tracker.

But what about people who have already tried tracking their fitness? Here’s where the concept of stickiness comes into play. Kvedar explains: ”So many people use these tracking devices and use them for a month and throw them in a drawer. We need to help people understand what motivates them, so that they can then choose the trackers and the apps that will be more helpful to them.”

So, certain types of encouragement work best to motivate certain people, and some methods don’t work at all. Makes sense. On the new site you can take a quick personality quiz to determine the best way to keep yourself motivated.

I wanted to see if stickiness could apply to my own experiences with health monitoring. According to my quiz results, I am a “Social Butterfly.” I can’t disagree with this result; I have always preferred scheduling workouts with other people, and group responsibility absolutely motivates me. Though more independent-minded in other arenas, I’m the type of person who buys groupons for yoga classes with friends, is much more likely to show up at the gym with a friend than alone, and gets excited about planning physical excursions with others.

Here are the four motivation styles listed on the site:

(graphic: Rachel Bloom)

(graphic: Rachel Bloom)

Kvedar sees Wellocracy as a transition away from “the days where we sort of sent out a blanket message – ‘smoking is bad for you’ – I think that’s pretty antiquated. I think, increasingly, we have to view public health as the sum of individual health.” In a world where companies can learn everything about a person on the Internet, catering advertisements to each consumer, Kvedar sees Wellocracy as an opportunity “to do the same thing for health.”

Readers, do you use health and fitness apps? What works for you, and what doesn’t? Let us know.

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