Using any one metric to track health is fraught with the possibility of misinterpretation. Context is crucial and this is provided by the use of multiple metrics. Health, in a holistic sense, is about the big picture, rather than one or two numbers.
Health is complex, it is a concerto.
And the body is the orchestra.
Given this, there is no reason to only listen to part of the body when trying to understand health, just like you would not only listen to one part of the orchestra.
Similarly, it is no good to only listen to the parts of the orchestra individually, because you miss the big picture.
And Finally, it is no good assuming the symphony is the only factor that plays into your enjoyment of the experience. There are many factors that surround your listening that will have a significant impact on your enjoyment which are no less relevant. For example the room, the theatrics, your company for the evening etc.
So, music analogies aside, when it comes to health it is of the utmost importance to be able to track and measure aspects of it. This is because of the significant power that feedback has on behavior. The quote “What gets measured gets managed” (attributed to Peter Druker) comes to mind here.
A simple example may be weighing yourself. Tracking your bodyweight week to week will give you an idea of overall trends and the impact lifestyle and behaviors are having on them. Tracking this every year may mean your feedback loop is too loose and subsequently the feedback isn’t timely enough, instead of addressing some behaviors early on before they become heavily ingrained habits you can only do so much later and the battle is much harder.
Carrying on from the above example, though, if your only measure of health is the number on the scale you will likely get a very slanted view on health. This is because health is more than weight but more importantly because the weight is contextless. It doesn’t factor in the composition of that weight and absolutely has no consideration of other aspects of health for example mental health, fitness, cardiovascular health etc.
This is why we, at Hearty, use wearables and advocate tracking multiple metrics, regularly.
Doing this, allows a tight feedback loop for you to understand your health and the impact of your lifestyle choices on it. It also allows for a more complete view of your health, for example the increased exercise you are doing may not initially see an improvement in the number on the scale but it may well improve HRV and sleep. In the example scenario, you gain positive reinforcement that aids in momentum for your behavior change. A good example of feedback being used to curb more negative health behaviors may be the same metrics and the impact of alcohol consumption. The scale won’t show a great deal of change in the acute time frame but HRV and sleep likely will.
The use of multiple data points, for example, both resting heart rate and HRV, aids in providing context for each, which is essential when interpreting any data at all. In fact the use of wearable technology to track these markers over time, adds context for our other testing like blood based biomarkers. Similarly, your subjective experience aids in the context for both the blood testing and the metrics from wearable sensors. For example, you feeling more energy and having a looser fitting pair of jeans aids in interpreting the scale number and changes to glucose or blood lipids.
The importance of context in interpreting data cannot be overstated.
This includes the context of potential accuracy and measurement errors. Whilst the technology we choose to use at Hearty is top of class in these aspects, nothing is perfect and there are times where the context gives clues that it is imperfect. This may be something like a huge change in HRV overnight because of pieces of data being missing as can happen at times. Noting this and that you feel particularly poor, is an example where the context provided shows that your HRV measure is probably not a good reflection of your recovery.
No one number should define your health and all data requires context. Using and tracking multiple markers is essential to health 2.0, a more holistic, patient-centered approach to health and wellness. Empowering patients to understand and interpret their data is a huge goal for Hearty and will be crucial in helping patients create healthy and sustainable lifestyles.