Quantified Self: 10 Ways Lifelogging Improves Your Quality Of Life

quantified self

Today, Apple announced the launch of it's newest big product ,the Apple Watch— a wrist-worn smartwatch that includes fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring, and  activity tracking.  The device’s sensors can track movements and vital signs much more accurately than existing fitness devices.

Apple isn't the first to jump on the “quantified self” bandwagon, although their tracking device will likely be the game-changer, propelling “lifelogging” into our vernacular and daily habits. Already their are hundreds of devices and apps like FitBit, MoodPanda, and Sleep Cycle that measure everything from your energy level to your state of happiness.

This kind of personal tracking, also known as body-hacking, self-tracking, or self-quantifying, involves using miniature sensor technology and mobile devices like smartphones to record details of a person’s daily life.

Tracking vitals, nutrition, sleep, and other life variables isn't a new concept, but now these new technologies make it much easier to gather and analyze personal data. Sensors are smaller and much less costly, making it possible to take the same quantitative methods formerly used in science and business and apply them to our personal lives.

By analyzing the data generated by these devices, the average person has more control over their own health and well-being. They can devise ways to deal with health problems, emotions, productivity, and ultimately improve their overall quality of life. The social and financial implications are astounding. As more people turn to self-monitoring, these gadgets will help prevent disease, prolong lives, and reduce medical costs.

Have you joined the quantified self movement?Here are 10 ways lifelogging improves your quality of life:

1. Reach your fitness goals

As you likely know from experience, following through on a fitness goal like running is quite difficult — especially since there's physical discomfort involved. It's hard to stay motivated when you can't gauge your improvement on a daily basis. However, when you track your efforts and closely monitor your body, you'll be inspired by your own progress. Self-tracking tools like Fitbit and Digifit can help you do exactly that: identify your fitness goal, determine the timeframe you wish to track your progress, and evaluate your results regularly. By reviewing the data, you can identify any factors affect your ability to reach your goal and act on them.

2. Improve weight loss and nutrition

Most of us aren't mindful of weekly or seasonal changes in our eating habits. We often eat unconsciously, not aware of the how much we've eaten or the nutritional quality of the food. Says John Cleek, M.D., director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Medical Weight Loss, “Studies show we underestimate what we eat by 30 percent.”
 
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Research consistently shows self-tracking helps people lose weight and maintain weight loss. By using apps like MyFitness Pal or Lose It,  you can set a daily calorie budget, track your food intake, and stay motivated to stack on track. One tracker in development is the Airo wristband which claims to help you know how much you’ve eaten and how healthy a meal was by using different wavelengths of light to detect metabolites released through your bloodstream.

3. Track and treat a chronic disease

Self-tracking devices can be extremely beneficial in addressing a chronic disease or chronic pain. Patients who cope with these illnesses and pain have to think about their disease every day. Using a lifelogging tool, patients get a detailed record of their progress and changes in their bodies. The data reveals day-to-day variations in their symptoms, empowering them to better understand the disease and the way their body responds to it. They can also use the data to identify what triggers or worsens flare-ups.

Glooko is an app that allows people with diabetes to sync their blood glucose readings from 25+ popular meters directly to supported Apple and Android devices. Using the data, they can adjust their diet, insulin, and other medications accordingly.

Researchers at the University of Washington are developing an app for monitoring asthma by having patients breath directly into their smartphone's microphone. Canadian researchers have developed a wireless shoe insole that tracks foot pressure patterns to alert patients with diabetes on their smartphones when they put too much pressure on their heels, which can lead to foot ulcers.

4. Improve your sleep

According the CDC, an estimated 50-70 million US adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder. Sleep deprived people more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, and even cancer. Getting a good night's sleep is critical to your heath, and the key to restful sleep involves both good sleep habits and knowledge of what impacts your sleep. That's where sleep tracking devices and smartphone apps that monitor your sleep cycles can change your sleep health.

Apps like Sleep Cycle and Sleepbot for Android track your sleep patterns and measure how well you sleep over the course of several nights. They also track movement overnight, auto-recording so you can hear whether you snore or if you're having breathing problems as you sleep.

5. Inform your doctor

When you show your doctor your self-tracking data during your appointment, he or she can better assess your current health situation using solid information rather than your memory. Of course your doctor must support your tracking efforts, but more and more physicians are seeing the benefits of patient-driven healthcare using these quantified self devices. Many of these tools (such as the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor) give you the option to send data directly to your doctor by email.

6. Understand and improve your moods

Paying attention to how you feel and measuring your moods using  tracking tools can help you determine the internal and external causes and triggers for your moods. People are using tracking programs to help with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. The data helps both doctors and patients better understand why symptoms occur when they do and whether their treatments are working properly.

Mood 24/7 is an app developed by HealthCentral based on technology from Johns Hopkins University to help you track your daily mood and share information with your doctor. Other mood tracking apps include MoodPanda, Moodscope, and MedHelp Mood Tracker.

7. Create better habits

Affecting positive change in your life involves creating new habits to your days. Every big change is comprised of a series of small new behaviors you must add to your schedule. However, adding new habits isn’t easy. It requires time, support, and accountability. Habit tracking apps afford the support and accountability you need to follow through and help make your habits stick. Lift is an app coaching, community, and data to help you be your best in any habit you choose. Another habit tracking app is irunurun which gamifies the habit-forming process making it easy and fun.

8. Improve your productivity

Increasing productivity is a personal and professional goal for nearly everyone. It's hard to know whether or not you're improving or stalling on productivity unless you measure it. At the risk of making you less productive today, here's a list of 50 productivity apps to check out.

9. Manage money

Part of personal productivity is managing your money –knowing what you're spending, how much you're saving, and how your investments are working for you. Mint is an app that let's you see all your balances and transactions together, on the web or your phone. It updates and categorizes your information,and suggests ways to help you save. Other apps like SigFig help you tailor an investment portfolio and keep it balanced and diversified.

10. Make a contribution

With the popularity of lifelogging, we'll see an increase in the scope of data collection, allowing users not only to track their own stats but also to aggregate them with those of others. Eventually, merging group data for analysis could help determine the cause or best treatment for certain diseases. CureTogether is a health research project that brings patients and researchers together to find cures for chronic conditions.


There are potential downsides to the quantified self movement.Translating everything we can into numbers removes some of the spontaneity and joy from the activity we're performing. Can we constantly track ourselves and really live? And of course security and personal privacy is a huge concern when it comes to self-tracking. Companies are lined up right now, eager to know your stats and preferences so they can induce you to make a purchase.

All of these concerns aside, self-tracking is here to stay, and there are a myriad of positive benefits from taking control of your life and having quantifiable data to help you make positive change.

What are your thoughts about the quantified self movement? How have self-tracking devices and apps helped you become healthier, happier, and more productive in life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Comments

  1. Barrie, I will be honest with you. I have heard about a few apps that you have listed but I was unaware of a lot of them. This is a gold mine for health conscious tech freaks like me.

    I am getting ‘Sleep Cycle’ today. I have been trying to fix my sleeping routine. Since a few days my late night writing schedule has messed up my sleeping routine. Sometimes, even after sleeping 10 hours I feel like I have slept for just 6 hours.

    I believe this app can be really instrumental in deciding when you get a sound sleep. It’s just the app I wanted. Never knew, somebody has actually made it.

    Btw.. I was wondering if there’s an app available that can monitor the brain waves, may be something with a soothing music to relax or meditate.

    You have made an interesting point about companies tracking our moods and preferences to show us more targeted ads. Facebook has already done this. Very soon, mobile advertising companies will implement it as well (I think they have already implemented it in a few apps).