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
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
Passionate about both decor and travel? Design industry pros are leading global tours to share their secret shopping sources—and help you score one-of-a-kind pieces.
WHEN MELANIE BURNS of Oklahoma City first entered the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, she was stunned by its sheer size and the pathways winding through its tented structures like a tangle of yarn. Though well-traveled and an old hand at hunting one-of-a-kind objets, she’d never experienced such an onslaught of potential riches. “The bazaar is intimidating,” she said, “the size of about five football fields.”
She had expert allies, however: Clare Louise Frost and Elizabeth Hewitt of Tamam, a lifestyle brand and Manhattan store specialising in Turkish antiques and their own collections. The duo led Ms. Burns to a shop layered deep behind other shops. “It was no more than about 14 feet square, and stacked high with the most beautiful hand-woven vintage tapestries I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Burns recalled. “I would never have tackled the place without these women. They are walking encyclopedias, they speak the language and when you shop with them, you don’t overpay.”
Ms. Frost, who calls the bazaar “her second home,” lived in Istanbul for nine years, and her business partners, Ms. Hewitt and Hüseyin Kaplan, still live there. Together they host trips to Turkey, capped at 14 participants, all eager to buy décor to take back home. Overseas shopping sprees like this are an increasingly popular new category of travel. Interior-design pros immerse travellers in a country’s culture and guide them to fabulous finds, whether an ornate vintage camel bag from Turkey or a contemporary French sculpture.
Indagare, a travel company in Manhattan, is seeing a growing market for overseas shopping trips. The 30 Insider Journey trips it ran in 2022, including seven design-centred jaunts, drew 540 travellers, twice as many as in 2019. Sicily, Japan and Mallorca are locales Indagare is eyeing for future design trips. Penta, a magazine that, like The Wall Street Journal, is published by Dow Jones & Co., has a partnership with Indagare to organise trips.
“Covid taught us we need to go when we have the opportunity,” said Grant K. Gibson, a San Francisco interior designer who himself has led eight trips to India and two to Morocco and is adding excursions to Egypt, Mexico and Turkey.
Trips are as cultural as they are commercial. Before Mr. Gibson’s group of 10 globetrotters start looking for linens or bargaining for bowls, they tour Jaipur by electric rickshaw and visit a textile museum. “I want them to understand the history and know where design ideas come from,” he said. Cynthia Smith, a biotech exec from San Francisco who traveled with Mr. Gibson to Morocco, came home with pottery in a vibrant green glaze unique to Tamegroute, a village that edges the Sahara. “Everyone asks me about the vase, and I have a story to tell about Tamegroute pottery,” she said. “It gives character to my house.”
The packages don’t come cheap—from around $4,000 to $18,000 (not including flights) depending on location and length—but offer you insider access. Designer Chloe Mackintosh of Boxwood Avenue Interiors in Reno, Nev., is leading her first trip this year to parts of Italy and France she knows well. One focus will be the weekend antique markets in L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in southeast France, but she’ll also introduce guests to local artisans, including a fifth-generation ceramist. Her group will take a pottery-making class to understand the process behind the product.
Known as “the huntress” because of her many years buying and selling vintage furniture, Ariene C. Bethea says people began asking her to lead a trip so they could hunt alongside her. The owner of Dressing Rooms Interiors, a shop and design studio in Charlotte, N.C., teamed with TrovaTrip to create a journey to the Paris flea markets this May. With Ms. Bethea’s input, the Portland, Ore., group-travel managers lined up accommodations, vendors, translators and tickets to museums. “I plan to help my guests shop, give them ideas and help them learn to tell stories in a space,” said Ms. Bethea, known for her playful use of colours, bold patterns and culturally inspired designs.
Lodging on these guided forays offers design cred, too. Ms. Mackintosh has reserved an entire 16-room château in the French countryside for just 12 people. Tamam’s Istanbul guests stay in a marble-floored hotel that was a late 19th-century Ottoman bank—with a vault that doubles as a wine cellar—and for excursions to Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey, they bed down in a traditional cavelike home carved out of soft rock.
On a trip to the South of France with Los Angeles-based designer Kathryn M. Ireland, visitors stay in Ms. Ireland’s farmhouse near Toulouse. Her trademark fabrics and colourful Bohemian and English-country style are on display in every bedroom lamp shade and living room chair. “Guests shop my house, and then I point them in the right direction to buy similar things,” she said. Ms. Ireland has been leading groups (a maximum of 10 people) for over a decade, taking them to neighbours’ villas, antique markets and out-of-the-way bakeries and bee yards.
Abby Landers first visited Ms. Ireland’s home as a high-school senior, traveling with her mother. Now five years out of college and living in Boston, she recently returned. “Kathryn embraced us, and she has been a mentor for me ever since.” Inspired by that first trip, Ms. Landers earned a master’s degree in interior architecture, and her current boss is someone she met on that trip. “You’re there for a week, and it’s a whirlwind of meeting artists and artisans, all friends of Kathryn’s.”
Kirstan Barnett, a tech investor from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., traveled to Tangier with Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare. Ms. Barnett was particularly moved by dinner at the 300-year-old, whitewashed, riad-style residence of Jamie Creel and Marco Scarani, two of the many designers she met at private events. The home was so richly layered and eclectic, she said, it inspired her to approach her own décor more bravely and reject the notion that a room must adhere to one style.
Some pros who organise such tours offer itinerary planning to folks who don’t want to travel with strangers. Mr. Gibson recently created a program for a group of four going to Jaipur. Though he won’t be joining them, he’s chosen the lodging and booked the restaurants and the experiences.
Travelers laser-focused on in-the-know shopping minus the touring can hire Chicago-based Skin Interior Design in cities such as London, Paris and Milan. The company arranges excursions so clients are shown exactly what they want—whether French midcentury chairs or Venetian-glass chandeliers. “We have an education in art history and antiques, and we help find pieces that keep value,” said Lauren Lozano Ziol, one of the founders. A recent two-day antique-furniture and art expedition in London cost $10,000.
How to get all the booty home? Mr. Gibson advises guests to travel with at least one empty suitcase. Bulky items can be packed and airfreighted home using DHL or FedEx. (Most carriers will pick up at the hotel.) Some vendors ship direct to the States from their stores at reasonable rates. For those who travel with Tamam to Turkey, easy shipping—including having your purchases collected from the vendors—is one of the perks. Ms. Burns, who bought ceramics, four suzani bedspreads and six rugs, said Tamam handled shipping for about $400. “Some of my things arrived before I even got home,” she said.
Five 2023 trips abroad devised and helmed by interiors experts imparting their insider info
Ready to shop your way around the world? Here are just some of the available packages that focus on home design. Prices are per person and generally include accommodations, meals and beverages, guided touring, activities and local transportation.
The owner of Dressing Rooms Interiors, a vintage-home-furnishings boutique and design studio in Charlotte, N.C., Ariene C. Bethea takes travellers shopping the Paris vintage markets and art galleries and on visits to lesser-known museums such as the Museum Nationale Gustave Moreau. Also on the agenda: a foray to Versailles and its gardens, a tour of Montmartre street art and a tasting at the Museum of Wine. From $3,649, Trips.TrovaTrip.com
Chloe Mackintosh, owner of Boxwood Avenue Interiors, a Reno, Nev., studio and shop, leads a 4-night trip in Florence, Italy. Travelers stay at the five-star Il Salviatino, a restored 15th-century villa that mixes Renaissance and contemporary décor. Along with shopping excursions, antiquing and a workshop at a local artisan’s studio, the trip includes wine tasting and cooking lessons. Florence, from $5,500, Learn.BoxwoodAvenue.com
Designer Clare Louise Frost, Tulu Textiles owner Elizabeth Hewitt and carpet dealer Hüseyin Kaplan teamed up to create Tamam, located in Manhattan and Istanbul and specialising in antique and vintage Turkish textiles, rugs and ceramics. Travelers tour Istanbul, Konya and Cappadocia, shopping the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar and visiting textiles and antique dealers. Plus: a hot-air-balloon ride and cooking class. Tamam in Turkey, from $3,600, Shop-Tamam.com
In London, South African interior designer Serena Crawford guides travellers through Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden (Diana’s favourite) as well as shops such as heritage brand Fortnum & Mason. In the university town of Oxford, architectural highlights range from medieval to modern, and in the bucolic Cotswolds, guests visit private homes and gardens of renowned interior designers. London & the Cotswolds with Serena Crawford, from $15,350, Indagare.com
Los Angeles-based designer Kathryn M. Ireland takes you on private museum tours, flea market hunts and a trend-spotting tour of design fair Maison et Objet in Paris (ticket not included), followed by leisurely days in the French countryside at her farmhouse outside Toulouse. Paris & La Castellane, from $7,900, Paris hotel not included, KathrynIreland.com
San Francisco interior designer Grant K. Gibson shares his passion for India with a guided tour of Jaipur and Taj Mahal. Participants stay in a guesthouse once part of a maharajah’s gardens; enjoy traditional Indian feasts; learn the history of block printing; rendezvous with rescue elephants; and conquer the chaotic bazaar, comprising flower and spice markets and rug and textiles vendors. Travel with Grant from $9,500, GrantKGibson.com
The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.
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