The future of tracking: Measuring health, fitness and happiness in 2017 and beyond

What will Quantified You measure when you get bored with steps?
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The Quantified Self can't let itself get stuck in a rut. Accurate step counting and a range of heart rate options are not the be-all and end-all of getting more information about our bodies and minds.

In that spirit, we've decided to step back and give you an overview of how we're tracking ourselves with wearables and connected tech now and what's coming next. What metrics are important, which new sensors will be the must haves and what new problems the industry is turning its attentions to.

Of course, we haven't covered everything in detail - areas like sleep tracking and fertility tracking are still seeing plenty of innovation - but here's a few ideas of how tracking tech will help our future selves eat healthy food, keep in shape and minimise stress.

Eating habits


It's safe to say MyFitnessPal is the current champion of food tracking - it has over 85 million users worldwide, a huge - if not exhaustive - database and includes the ability to save regularly eaten foods, meals and recipes, barcode scanning and set specific nutrition goals.

Read this: The best food tracking wearables and apps

But even though it links up to the rest of the Under Armour Record suite - and other third party apps via Google Fit and Apple Health - it still involves searching for foods, guessing amounts and manually inputting ingredients and quantities. There's Google's Im2Calories system which uses AI to estimate the calories in food you've snapped but again, we don't want to take a pic of every last snack. Plus it misidentifies foods - a lot.

The future of tracking: Measuring health, fitness and happiness in 2017 and beyond


There's a few wearables and systems in the pipeline that aim to give us more information about what we're consuming in real time. The HealBe GoBe claims to automatically count calories in real time by measuring blood glucose levels and, although the science has been questioned, early reviews show that its results aren't so out of line that it's not useful in some respect.

Elsewhere, Google is developing a smart contact lens to track blood glucose levels, which is primarily aimed at diabetics but could also help conscious eaters. On the wacky end of things, the AutoDietary smart necklace, being developed by researchers at Northeastern University in China, wants to count calories by matching the audio of you eating to a catalogue of food sounds.

What about monitoring our long term weight trends? Samsung C-Lab just spun off Welt, a smart belt startup, into its own company. Its aim? Tackle the obesity crisis. With the tracking tech is stored in the buckle, Welt both takes an exact waist measurement and its algorithms know if you've overeaten, you're bloated or you've actually gained weight, providing real time graphs so you can't life to yourself.

Those ideas are all still at the possibly-too-crazy stage, we're waiting for realistic systems to emerge. One thing's for sure, whichever wearable can help people eat healthily, build good habits and lose weight, will find itself in a very good position indeed.

Fitness & physical health


If you're tracking fitness now using wearable tech, chances are by wearing a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. We're seeing a trend towards heart rate monitors but many standalone trackers - Fitbits, Misfits, Jawbones, smart jewellery - focus on the metrics of steps, active time, distance and calories burned. All of these can be measured by an accelerometer, gyroscope and - sometimes - GPS and the price of these types of trackers (basically non heart rate focused ones) is falling and falling.

Read this: Atlas boss - people realise the limitations of Fitbit and Jawbone

Dave Wright, CEO of MyZone, which makes a chest strap that gamifies your heart rate training, recently told us that the days of step counting fitness trackers are numbered.

"The World Health Organisation guidelines are based on 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more per week," he said. "It's not based on 10,000 steps or 2,000 jiggles of a jiggle device. It's about intensity.

The future of tracking: Measuring health, fitness and happiness in 2017 and beyond


So what's next? Wareable's editor Michael Sawh has called for a greater focus on heart rate variability (HRV) in fitness tracking wearables. He wants to see it in the next Fitbits and while that might be wishful thinking, we're seeing more and more of a conversation around it. HRV is the measurement of the time interval between heartbeats i.e. the small fluctuations of the heart, not just the headline of beats per minute.

It's tracked using the same optical heart rate monitors that you get your heart rate from, features on wearables like the Jaybird Reign and is best measured in the morning. Essentially, you can find out how much strain you're putting on your body and whether you're ready to work out again.

As for Fitbit, James Park has teased that future Fitbits will be able to monitor blood pressure and spit out more stats on athletic performance, though he hasn't gone into specifics and Fitbit is taking a lot of heat over its PurePulse HRM tech in the courts.

Meanwhile it turns out that Jawbone bought a med tech company called Spectros in 2015 which specialises in measuring, amongst other things, "pulse oximetery" i.e. the oxygen level of the blood. It has also suggested that its focus in the near future is computing calorific burn more accurately and also diving deeper into the amount of deep and REM sleep we get.

We also need to consider not just how we're tracking but where - hearables are big news and many companies think these sensors are going to move up to the ear, including Bragi, Samsung, Bose & more.

That's all fairly standard stuff. The real shift in what we track and how we track it in fitness could come via implantables and smart pills like BodyCap's e-Celsius performance electronic pill which tracks your core body temperature from inside your gastrointestinal tract. It's aimed at elite athletes in training, now, but could soon be part of a connected system designed around sports performance.

Emotions & stress


The simple fact is that emotion sensing and stress busting tech is still somewhat of a niche. Meditation encouraging stones, indie breathing-oriented wearables, that sort of thing. We've tried and tested a few so far, including Spire, which clips onto your belt and tracks your breathing when you inhale and exhale.

Sadly this particular device is easy to forget and the info in the app is tricky to decipher in order to make real changes to routines. But we've also tried out the Muse brain sensing headband and Bellabeat LEAF, both of which focus on breathing exercises to de-stress and relax, each with more success than Spire.

And it's a sign of where things are heading - a new wave of biofeedback wearables that put as much emphasis on our mental health and wellbeing as our physical health and fitness goals. Even Pebble is getting in on the action with its new Happiness app which requires you to manually input your energy and mood alongside your activities, location and who you're with. It's a neat first step and we'll report back on how we find it very soon.

The future of tracking: Measuring health, fitness and happiness in 2017 and beyond


You know it's really happening when Apple joins in. During this week's WWDC keynote, the watchOS 3 section ended with details about its new app Breathe.

Landing in the fall/autumn alongside the rest of the new Apple Watch features, it guides you through meditation exercises via visuals and gentle haptic feedback and also gives you a reading of your resting heart rate towards the end of the session. Ideally, this would be on the lower end of your range if you are truly relaxed.

Next March we'll get the Indiegogo shipping and launch of Zenta, the exciting emotion focused wearable from London startup Vinaya, too. This biometric bracelet tracks galvanic skin response (another trendy metric alongside HRV) in order to determine how happy, angry, stressed or relaxed we are. It measures skin temperature and conductivity and already enhances the UP3's sleep tracking abilities.

In Zenta, it works alongside an optical heart rate monitor (for HR and HRV), an IR temperature sensor, an accelerometer and data from your social media, calendar and apps to build up a real time picture of your emotions and offer coaching tips and suggestions via AI algorithms. Plus there's breathing exercises. It's bold, it's futuristic and it addresses the lack of psychiatrists and therapists available to many people with all kinds of mental health issues.

What sensors are you looking forward to? What would you like to track that you currently struggle with? Is auto calorie counting the holy grail? Or stress management? Let us know in the comments.

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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