Health and Fitness Tracking Goes Mainstream
Self-tracking has moved beyond professional athletes and data geeks.
Self-tracking has moved beyond professional athletes and data geeks.
Since September, Jeanette Cajide has armed herself with an Elite heart-rate variability monitor. And a temperature-controlled mattress pad. And a Levels continuous glucose monitor. And an Oura Ring that also measures heart-rate variability along with resting heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature. “Yeah, I’m a little crazy on the devices,” says Ms. Cajide, director of strategy and operations at consulting firm Clareo.
She’s got good reason. After returning to competitive figure skating four years ago, she won a national championship. Then last September, she broke her leg while landing an Axel jump. Ms. Cajide, who is 44 years old, competes again in eight weeks—against many skaters half her age.
She is trying to override nearly two decades as a “sedentary adult,” working in tech and investment banking. “I’m trying to make up for lost time. It’s me against time,” she says. “The sensors and data allow me to optimize for getting the most mileage out of my body.”
There is no escaping the Quantified Self movement. Measuring biomarkers used to be the preoccupation of extreme athletes and extreme geeks. No more.
“I think the attitude is shifting. The seriousness of the pandemic has made people realize that gosh, isn’t it a good idea to have a sensor,” says Michael Snyder, chairman of the department of genetics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, whose research, among other studies, indicates data from smart watches—alterations in heart rate, steps and sleep—can be used to detect Covid-19 as early as nine days before symptoms.
Until relatively recently, health-minded people were excited to track their steps and heart rate. Now they can perform their own urine and blood tests, conduct body-fat scans and monitor their emotions. Soon they may be able to monitor their rate of aging to take steps to slow it down. Rings, watches, patches and apps that monitor biomarkers have taken off, buoyed by a pandemic that alerted everyone to “underlying conditions” they might not be aware of.
Fitness and tech companies, already adroit marketers, jumped on the opportunity, intriguing people like Ms. Cajide. They “have created this persona of somebody who’s striving and they’ve done a really good job of it,” says Joe Vennare, co-founder of Fitt Insider, which produces a newsletter and podcast and invests in health, wellness and fitness. Fitness-tech startups raised $2.3 billion in 2020, 30% more than the year before, according to market-intelligence firm CB Insights.
People who track their data are constantly sharing online. One recently tweeted a graph comparing her heart rate: “me walking alone, hauling it: 140 bpm vs. me walking normal with my friend: <110 bpm.” Another boasted that since he began wearing a sleep-tracking device, he has averaged 8.25 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Another tweeted eight separate graphs of jagged green and blue lines with an ominous question: “Anyone have heart rate or respiratory rate peaks in the night that is DOUBLE their normal value? I don’t know if this is a medical problem or just the measuring device.”
Self-trackers often fixate on factors that might influence their performance. “It’s interesting to look at these things and learn about yourself. They can help you understand things you couldn’t unearth on your own,” says Chris Bailey, co-founder and chief technology officer of startup NatureQuant and an endurance mountain biker. He’s currently testing the Apollo Neuro, which isn’t a tracker, but is considered another bio-hacking device designed to increase heart-rate variability and optimize performance. Worn on the wrist or ankle, it is designed to reduce stress and recalibrate the nervous system using varying-frequency vibrations that can be programmed to make you more alert in boring meetings, focus better during cognitive or athletic activities and recover more quickly after physical exertion. Mr. Bailey’s early verdict: “It’s a little hard to tell. It helps with focus a little bit, maybe, but it’s certainly not something that 2Xes your performance.”
Individuals react differently to caffeine, pasta, late nights—almost everything. Last year, Whoop added a journal to its sleep-tracking app. In the journal, users can log more than 70 behaviors to see how, over time, they might affect sleep and performance. Activities include taking medication like Advil, drinking wine, reading before bed and having sex. In a podcast introducing the change, Whoop executives said users had frequently requested the sex-tracking feature. For some, sex can raise core body temperature which is counterproductive to sleep, the company explained, so you might want to take that into account the night before a big event.
As for alcohol: Not a good idea, according to Whoop. While many people think alcohol helps them sleep better, it disrupts the repair and recovery that is supposed to happen during slumber. It interferes with physically restorative slow-wave sleep and it “crushes” your mentally restorative REM sleep, Emily Capodilupo, now Whoop’s vice president data science and research, explained in a company podcast. It messes with your heart rate, suppresses recovery and increases the chance of injury.
When Ms. Cajide, the figure skater, heard about sleep tracking, she thought it was silly. “I don’t care what happens at night,’” she recalls thinking. Then she learned the significance of heart-rate variability—not heart rate, which is beats per minute—but the variance in the length of time between heart beats. HRV is a key indicator of how fit, recovered and ready you are to perform, and can be greatly affected by the quality of your sleep. “I went down the rabbit hole,” she says.
Now she wears a continuous glucose monitor—a patch attached to the underside of her arm. Its data displays on her phone, telling her what foods are spiking her glucose and how efficiently she is managing her energy. She programs the temperature of her mattress pad to gradually fall to 62 degrees in the middle of the night, to bring down core body temperature and thus positively influence her heart rate and HRV. So far it has gotten those metrics to their “best points mid-sleep ever,” she says.
She uses her Fitbit as an alarm clock because its vibration doesn’t spike her heart rate and scramble her metrics. Then she checks the data from her Oura Ring and compares it to that of her Elite HRV, “to make sure they’re giving me the same information.”
The information tells her how hard to train—whether she will attempt an Axel, the jump that resulted in her broken leg last fall. Her current program includes two. “On a good recovery day, I’m more comfortable taking risks,” she says. That is crucial because she has only recently recovered but competes again in just eight weeks.
Dr. Snyder at Stanford understands the obsessiveness. He wears four smart watches, two on each wrist, to figure out what variables are the best to measure and “also sometimes one will run out of batteries.” He believes Ms. Cajide’s kind of self-tracking is critical to the future of healthcare, saying, “If people really care about their own health, they are going to have to take charge.”
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 12, 2021
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
How far can an electric car really go on a full charge? What can you do to make it go farther? We answer these and other questions that EV buyers might ask.
Many people considering an electric vehicle are turned off by their prices or the paucity of public charging stations. But the biggest roadblock often is “range anxiety”—the fear of getting stuck on a desolate road with a dead battery.
All EVs carry window stickers stating how far they should go on a full charge. Yet these range estimates—overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and touted in carmakers’ ads—can be wrong in either direction: either overstating or understating the distance that can be driven, sometimes by 25% or more.
How can that be? Below are questions and answers about how driving ranges are calculated, what factors affect the range, and things EV owners can do to go farther on a charge.
The distance, according to EPA testing, ranges from 516 miles for the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels to 100 miles for the 2023 Mazda MX-30.
Most EVs are in the 200-to-300-mile range. While that is less than the distance that many gasoline-engine cars can go on a full tank, it makes them suitable for most people’s daily driving and medium-size trips. Yet it can complicate longer journeys, especially since public chargers can be far apart, occupied or out of service. Plus, it takes many times longer to charge an EV than to fill a tank with gas.
Testing by Car and Driver magazine found that few vehicles go as far as the EPA stickers say. On average, the distance was 12.5% shorter, according to the peer-reviewed study distributed by SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers.
In some cases, the estimates were further off: The driving range of Teslas fell below their EPA estimate by 26% on average, the greatest shortfall of any EV brand the magazine tested. Separately, federal prosecutors have sought information about the driving range of Teslas, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The study also said Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck went 230 miles compared with the EPA’s 300-mile estimate, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV went 220 miles versus the EPA’s 259.
A GM spokesman said that “actual range may vary based on several factors, including things like temperature, terrain/road type, battery age, loading, use and maintenance.” Ford said in a statement that “the EPA [figure] is a standard. Real-world range is affected by many factors, including driving style, weather, temperature and if the battery has been preconditioned.”
Meanwhile, testing by the car-shopping site Edmunds found that most vehicles beat their EPA estimates. It said the Ford Lightning went 332 miles on a charge, while the Chevy Bolt went 265 miles.
Driving range depends largely on the mixture of highway and city roads used for testing. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in stop-and-go driving because slowing down recharges their batteries through a process called regenerative braking. Conversely, traveling at a high speed can eat up a battery’s power faster, while many gas-engine cars meet or exceed their EPA highway miles-per-gallon figure.
Car and Driver uses only highway driving to see how far an EV will go at a steady 75 mph before running out of juice. Edmunds uses a mix of 60% city driving and 40% highway. The EPA test, performed on a treadmill, simulates a mixture of 55% highway driving and 45% city streets.
Edmunds believes the high proportion of city driving it uses is more representative of typical EV owners, says Jonathan Elfalan, Edmunds’s director of vehicle testing. “Most of the driving [in an EV] isn’t going to be road-tripping but driving around town,” he says.
Car and Driver, conversely, says its all-highway testing is deliberately more taxing than the EPA method. High-speed interstate driving “really isn’t covered by the EPA’s methodology,” says Dave VanderWerp, the magazine’s testing director. “Even for people driving modest highway commutes, we think they’d want to know that their car could get 20%-30% less range than stated on the window sticker.”
The agency declined to make a representative available to comment, but said in a statement: “Just like there are variations in EPA’s fuel-economy label [for gas-engine cars] and people’s actual experience on the road for a given make and model of cars/SUVs, BEV [battery electric vehicle] range can exceed or fall short of the label value.”
Pick the one based on the testing method that you think matches how you generally will drive, highway versus city. When shopping for a car, be sure to compare apples to apples—don’t, for instance, compare the EPA range estimate for one vehicle with the Edmunds one for another. And view all these figures with skepticism. The estimates are just that.
Batteries are heavy and are the most expensive component in an EV, making up some 30% of the overall vehicle cost. Adding more could cut into a vehicle’s profit margin while the added weight means yet more battery power would be used to move the car.
But battery costs have declined over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to fall, while new battery technologies likely will increase their storage capacity. Already, some of the newest EV models can store more power at similar sticker prices to older ones.
The easiest thing is to slow down. High speeds eat up battery life faster. Traveling at 80 miles an hour instead of 65 can cut the driving range by 17%, according to testing by Geotab, a Canadian transportation-data company. And though a primal appeal of EVs is their zippy takeoff, hard acceleration depletes a battery much quicker than gentle acceleration.
It does, and sometimes by a great amount. The batteries are used to heat the car’s interior—there is no engine creating heat as a byproduct as in a gasoline car. And many EVs also use electricity to heat the batteries themselves, since cold can deteriorate the chemical reaction that produces power.
Testing by Consumer Reports found that driving in 15- to-20-degrees Fahrenheit weather at 70 mph can reduce range by about 25% compared to similar-speed driving in 65 degrees.
A series of short cold-weather trips degraded the range even more. Consumer Reports drove two EVs 40 miles each in 20-degree air, then cooled them off before starting again on another 40-mile drive. The cold car interiors were warmed by the heater at the start of each of three such drives. The result: range dropped by about 50%.
Testing by Consumer Reports and others has found that using the AC has a much lower impact on battery range than cold weather, though that effect seems to increase in heat above 85 degrees.
“Precondition” your EV before driving off, says Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. In other words, chill or heat it while it is still plugged in to a charger at home or work rather than using battery power on the road to do so. In the winter, turn on the seat heaters, which many EVs have, so you be comfortable even if you keep the cabin temperature lower. In the summer, try to park in the shade.
Going up hills takes more power, so yes, it drains the battery faster, though EVs have an advantage over gas vehicles in that braking on the downside of hills returns juice to the batteries with regenerative braking.
Tires play a role. Beefy all-terrain tires can eat up more electricity than standard ones, as can larger-diameter ones. And underinflated tires create more rolling resistance, and so help drain the batteries.
The meters are supposed to take into account your speed, outside temperature and other factors to keep you apprised in real time of how much farther you can travel. But EV owners and car-magazine testers complain that these “distance to empty” gauges can suddenly drop precipitously if you go from urban driving to a high-speed highway, or enter mountainous territory.
So be careful about overly relying on these gauges and take advantage of opportunities to top off your battery during a multihour trip. These stops could be as short as 10 or 15 minutes during a bathroom or coffee break, if you can find a high-powered DC charger.
Fully charge the car at home before departing. This sounds obvious but can be controversial, since many experts say that routinely charging past 80% of a battery’s capacity can shorten its life. But they also say that charging to 100% occasionally won’t do damage. Moreover, plan your charging stops in advance to ease the I-might-run-out panic.
Yes, an EV battery’s ability to fully charge will degrade with use and age, likely leading to shorter driving range. Living in a hot area also plays a role. The federal government requires an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries for serious failure, while some EV makers go further and cover degradation of charging capacity. Replacing a bad battery costs many thousands of dollars.
Your EV likely provides software on the navigation screen as well as a phone app that show charging stations. Google and Apple maps provide a similar service, as do apps and websites of charging-station networks.
But always have a backup stop in mind—you might arrive at a charging station and find that cars are lined up waiting or that some of the chargers are broken. Damaged or dysfunctional chargers have been a continuing issue for the industry.
Be sure to carry a portable charger with you—as a last resort you could plug it into any 120-volt outlet to get a dribble of juice.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’