New Feature: Our Answer to the HRA

Our clients have asked for a tool to measure the attitudes and habits of their employee population without going through a full-blown Health-Risk Assessment,. We thought this was a great idea. We’ve just launched Questions. Questions gives wellness admins the ability to “see inside” their employees, to accurately map employee habits that effect health and wellness, and to craft a wellness strategy that works for each individual company. We call the Questions feature an “HRA lite” because it gives our clients the power of the HRA, without the cost or hassle.

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More about HRAs: Many companies launch their wellness program with an HRA, or a Health Risk Assessment. But let’s face it: HRAs are typically long questionnaires that are annoying to fill out, don’t provide any real wellness value, and, at up to $40 a pop, burn through wellness dollars faster than you can say “health.”

The true value of HRAs lie in their ability to accurately map a population. If your employee population tends toward obesity, which is a leading predictor of diabetes and heart disease, you need to know that. If your population, on the other hand, is young and active, you need to know that, too. The real value of the HRA is to help the wellness administrator craft a wellness strategy that works for her population.

How the Questions feature works: It’s easy. From the admin pane of your Walker Tracker account, just type the question you want to ask. You can make the question “required” before users continue to their account, or you can set the question as part of account registration. You can even assign points for answering it, if you use our points system. Questions and answers are logged into the account information download, so you can measure a baseline, progress, and program-end status.

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Questions is our answer to the HRA. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Health Gadgets and Goodies at Consumer Electronics Show

Can tech help health? Yes! There’s a groundswell of gadgets and goodies coming to the market, showing how quickly this segment is developing. I particularly love the companies focused on helping kids develop healthy habits, though I think I prefer my own childhood running after balls and jumping rope and whatnot, over playing dance dance revolution in the classroom. Perhaps it’s a matter of generational taste…

Go here for the low down:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/10/tech/gaming-gadgets/health-tech-ces-2013/index.html?c=tech

You asked for better weekly stats

Our programing elves have been hard at work… We’re always improving the Walker Tracker program, and we always love to hear ways that we can make Walker Tracker better for you. Over the last year, many of our clients have requested regular status emails sent to their walkers to both increase engagement in their company wellness initiative, and to provide real-time feedback on walking performance.

We thought this was a great idea!

Based on your input, we’ve built a  (rather handsome) weekly status email (see screen shot below). The email shows your walkers what they’ve done in the last week—total steps taken, miles covered, and calories burned, plus it gives an update on how they’re doing in the competition and how they’re performing compared to their friends. We also have an area for health and wellness tips, and we’re collaborating with a certified fitness coach to help us build great, relevant, and useful content, every week. Employees can easily turn this off in their settings (each email contains instructions how), or you can turn it off program-wide in your Admin Features area.

Thanks for all your great feedback, and keep the requests coming. This is your tool, and we want to hear from you.

Wireless pedometer impressions

I’ve gone the ultra-geeky route over the last couple of months and worn three pedometers at once. Certainly by no means a record for me, but a pretty large number to wear at once all the same. Two of these pedometers happens to be wireless. We’re integrating wireless pedometers into Walker Tracker, and we’re wrapping up testing on the first of these.

I have on a:

Omron HJ-320 – (a non-wireless pedometer) this is my current gold standard for reliability, accuracy and usability. It’s generally what we recommend to all of our walking programs as the cheapest of the best pedometers. It’s a classic tri-axial accelerometer-based pedometer. For immediacy of data, it cannot be beat. Seven days of data is there in the display, along with a clock and mileage conversion. It can be worn comfortably in your pocket. It’s also the cheapest of the three. However, it has no wireless connectivity. More on that below.

Fitbit Zip – this is Fitbit’s new lower-end pedometer (though the most expensive of the three). The pedometer itself is very small, and when the clip is on, it essentially becomes part of the pedometer. A clever design there. You can either connect this with an included USB/wireless dongle or via their app on your smartphone. Its screen shows one day’s worth of distance, steps and calories burned as well as a clock. Everything about this pedometer seemed great at first. It marries some of the Omron’s on-screen data availability, with the Pebble’s wireless connectivity. But over time it has become my least favorite. The clip is hard to remove from clothing and it feels as though the pedometer will eject from it. The battery flap is incredibly fragile, the wireless synching is frustrating to the point where you begin to lose trust in the device, and the display is crowded with a cuteness I could have done without (preferring more data instead). I’ll talk about its accuracy below as well.

 

Fitlinxx Pebble – The Fitlinxx Pebble is the smallest of the three and also just released. It has no display except for 12 dots you see here, when it’s fully lit up. Though its display tells you so much less than the other devices, I have to admit that it has a sort of magic about it. It’s the smallest and most durable-feeling, and can be worn on your hip or on your shoe (I much prefer to wear them in my pocket or on my belt). Tap the front of the device five times (it feels like an incantation) and its lights jump into action, fanning out in an animated, pulsing circle to indicate where you are relative to your goal. The tapping itself felt like I was waking a sort of sentient creature. In the end I really like my devices to have that feel of magic to them.  Of the three pedometers, it consistently recorded in between the other two on step counting. While I love the Omron 320, I have often had the sense that it errs slightly on the side of too stingy, and so the results from the Pebble felt on the money. Other than that — with the base station set up, the greatest pleasure was in just having my results go live on Walker Tracker without any extra hassle  (and better, because of how we’ve engineered it, I receive a congratulatory text message when I hit my daily goal). Alternately, when you want to know how many steps you’ve walked *right now*, it’s the only device that can’t answer that question (except via Walker Tracker’s text-message integration).

Using the custom fields on Walker Tracker I was able to record results for all three devices on an ongoing basis. Or rather, in this case, the Fitlinxx Pebble recorded its results automatically, and I hand entered the Omron HJ-320 and the Fitbit One.

 

Step Comparisons between pedometers

Fitlinxx Pebble vs Omron HJ 320 vs Fitbit Zip

Fitlinxx Pebble (Blue) vs Omron HJ 320 (Green) vs Fitbit Zip (Orange). The Omron was the most stingy, the Fitbit the most generous, sometimes recording nearly 2x the Omron.

Over a period of three weeks, the Pebble recorded 17% more steps than the Omron HJ 320, while the Fitbit Zip recorded 36% higher on average, occasionally recording at nearly double the Omron.

Three pedometers on my hip...

Three pedometers on my hip...

In order of preference, I like the Fitlinxx Pebble best, then the Omron HJ-320 and then the Fitbit One. Wireless synching of pedometers is really awesome. I want a pedometer to do its job and keep long term records for me, and not have to compile the data myself. The HJ-320 is, in my opinion, one of the last in a long evolution of manual-entry pedometers. It does its job perfectly and effortlessly and reliably, but then asks you to take up the slack. We at Walker Tracker strongly believe that the recording and observing of personal data can lead to personal change (that which is measured, improves). With manual entry pedometers the recording of that data has always been the most tedious part. Removing that tedium is key. I think that wireless pedometers will contribute greatly to the success of pedometer wearers, and to our walking programs.

In this modern area of gadget design influenced greatly by Apple and others, I want my device to be objects I covet. To have a sense of magic. Fitbit knows this — they have fantastic design —  and they tried to do the same with the Fitbit Zip (though I’d argue they came down to far on the side of cuteness). Unfortunately, you need to be able to trust your device for it to seem magical. While the Fitbit Zip scores big points for having a smartphone app and being able to synch with that directly, if the synching is a hassle, doesn’t work, or gives erroneous results (all three for me, and others too according to app store reviews), it becomes hard to love your device. In the end, I desired to see the data it recorded less because I lost my faith in it. After attempting to synch with their smartphone app and have the data not appear, I stopped being as interested in seeing that too. Along with a few hardware issues, I’m not sure I can wholly recommend this device, as much as I’d like to. Fixing these issues (especially the crazy generosity of the step counts) will make this a great device. As a side note: we now have the Fitbit One in the office for testing, and will speak to this more later.

The Fitlinxx Pebble retained all of its magic, while showing me significantly less data than the others. It remains an intelligent enigma on my belt, more of a sentient assistant than a device with which I have to troubleshoot. Once I set up their base station (by the way — that you can synchronize many, many Pebbles through a single base-station is an incredible plus for corporate walking programs) I did not think about how the data made it into the app again. It was just there. There was nothing to troubleshoot, no settings to futz with, no setup to mess with. It’s far more subtle than the other devices, telling you so much less, but in my mind, far, far more compelling.

Integrating wireless pedometers is under active development. I’m very happy to announce we will be offering programs with the Fitlinxx Pebble device immediately! Drop us a line if you want to know more.

New for walking programs: Facebook integration

Here’s a new feature for our corporate walking programs.

Facebook integration!

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We’ve had this for a while in our community program and now custom walking programs for corporations, cities and educational institutions can take advantage of it. After a walker has posted his/her steps, a box will show up asking if they would like to post their steps to Facebook. The step blog entry will be posted right into their Facebook newsfeed.

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We know that there are some of you who shudder at the thought of your employees posting their steps to Facebook. That’s why there are two controls on this.

Turn it on in your administrative panel under ‘Features’. It defaults to off. After that, each walker will have the option to turn it on/off in their own settings.

Get a second chance to edit your post before posting it into your Facebook feed

Get a second chance to edit your post before posting it into your Facebook feed

iPod Nano Pedometer Survey

Here’s the survey we’re going to post in our newsletter that goes out tomorrow.

Who is using an iPod Nano pedometer? How accurate is it? Are you using Nike+? Should we find a way to automagically pull in the data?

iPod Nano Pedometer Survey >

Feel free to get a jump on the responses!
The responses are open – so you’ll be able to see the results (of multiple-choice questions, not the text fields)

What kind of pedometer should I get?

I’ve been asked this question a ton of times — here’s what I usually tell people:

Depending upon your budget, I’ve definitely found that nicer pedometers encourage people to stick with walking. A pedometer is a cheap investment already — and so I would encourage everyone to bypass the $1 – $5 pedometers and go for something that will:

1) Last you

2) Not count a bunch of steps for non-walking activities

3) Be very wearable (most of the people on Walker Tracker wear their pedometer all day, every day)

A pedometer like this is going to cost you in the neighborhood of $10 – $40. Walking really is one of the cheapest physical activities.

My favorite pedometers are the ‘pocket pedometers’ — you don’t need to clip them on, you just put them in your pocket and they’ll count fine from there. The cheapest of these is the Omron HJ-112, which is about $20 at Amazon. Its big brother is the Omron HJ-720ITC. If  you are ordering in bulk, you might try onlinefitness.com for a discount.

For cheaper options – the Omron HJ-150 and HJ-151 are both decent, sturdy pedometers. It’s also worth checking out  what pedometers our community likes here —  it looks like other highly-rated pedometers according to our community are the Sportline 345, Sportline 350, Yamax DigiWalker CW-701, New Lifestyles NL-2000.

In order of features, I like:

  • wearable in a pocket. If you don’t wear it, it’s not going to do you any good.
  • memory (usually 7 days – I like to see how I’ve done over a week, and it’s useful for entering on Walker Tracker)
  • resets at midnight
  • sturdiness
  • can’t ‘fake’ steps (uses an accelerometer over a pendulum. Or rather, it’s much harder to fake steps)
  • a continuous activity measure (on Omron pedometers this is called ‘aerobic steps’ (in the newer ones, for some reason they renamed this to ‘moderate steps’ – it measures when it feels you’ve been walking long enough to benefit your heart)

There are lots of other metrics that pedometers can calculate — miles walked, calories burned, etc, but most of these are just mathematical calculations based on the number of steps you’ve walked. They’re useful features, but not absolutely necessary.

Best of luck!

Walk and make electricity!

There’s a great article in BBC Technology today about a prototype gadget that allows you to generate electricity while you walk.

Knee dynamo taps ‘people power’

One minute of walking will power a cell phone for 30 minutes – I find that incredible.

I love the idea of ‘energy harvesting’, and I especially like the idea of being extra motivated to walk knowing that I would be recycling a lot of that energy into a battery source that could be plugged into other things. Can we go carbon free via walking?

“We’re pretty effective batteries,” Dr Donelan told BBC News. “In our fat we store the equivalent of about a 1,000kg battery.”

Awesome.

Walker Tracker API + Google Charts API: Awesome.

I whipped up a quick example of using the Walker Tracker API together with the Google Charts API to draw a nifty looking chart.

The Google Charts API, while a teensy bit limited, is very cool. You can probably expect to see a little more of it here.

Dynamic Chart using Walker Tracker API and Google Charts API

(not saying my step counts are awesome… unfortunately)

Have a look at the Walker Tracker API Example