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Using data to change habits

04 Jun 2019 | Share

Using data to change habits

As you’ve probably acutely aware as we head into summer, most New Year’s resolutions fail. By around March, many of us have forgotten or given up on the things we wanted to change on January 1. Bad habits can be hard to kick, and developing good ones can be just as difficult.

So why does this happen? Maybe it’s while we’re trying to form new habits, we don’t get any feedback:

  • Is the new diet actually working?
  • Has running for the last two weeks made any difference?
  • Am I actually getting healthier?
  • Has getting more sleep improved my mood and wellbeing?

Traditionally, many of these things were hard to quantify. Today’s modern technologies and the data-driven insights they provide make it much easier to learn about the impact of lifestyle changes.

Get fit, stay fit

Smart watches, heart-rate monitors, and health and fitness apps have gone mainstream. They provide a fantastic opportunity to use data to your advantage.

Let’s take running as an example. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with running for ages. Last November, I started to get back into it with easy runs whenever I felt like it. I ran but I didn’t make any noticeable progress.

When I started to pay attention to the data generated by my runs, things started to change. I now get alerts during a run when I go faster or slower than my specified target pace. And afterwards I can assess my overall performance by reviewing not just my pace but also my heart rate, the elevation and other metrics. This helps to improve on the parts of the training I battled with.

I know that during interval runs I always struggle to hit the target pace for the first interval. Understanding that the first speed interval on a cold winter morning will be a little slower means I don’t need to get frustrated. The pattern I’ve identified shows me that I’ll hit my target in the following intervals – resulting in a successful session overall.

My personal running strategy includes planning specific sessions for each week. I also analyze the data to understand my performance – this ensures I can improve consistently.

Tools and online communities like Strava allow you to compare your performance with others. Whether you want to be the fastest cyclist up a certain hill or you want to crack a distance goal, these communities with their gamification and competitive nature help you use data to become fitter and better.

 

Strava’s training

Strava’s training log lets me review my activities. Can you tell when I started my training camp and began to cycle more?

Nutrition

All of us have expressed the wish to lose weight and eat healthier at some point or other. Culinary temptation and the ever-present fast-food options can make it difficult to achieve this goal.

Apps and tools like MyFitnessPal can help – I’ve used them myself in the past. Tracking food in an app is a good way to get data-driven feedback on the amount of calories consumed and the nutritional value of your diet.

The collected data tells you when you’ve reached a specific calorie limit and also whether the amount of sugar, fat, sodium and other nutrients consumed throughout the day equates to a healthy diet.

Using MyFitnessPal to track food for a couple of years helped me to appreciate the nutritional content of what I eat. This knowledge is still helping me today to make the right choices, even though I’m not tracking every meal.

I’ve developed a lifestyle grounded in data that works for me and gives me consistent results and optimal health. Without the app’s regular data-driven feedback, I might have struggled to build the same healthy habits.

Keeping track of your progress – with data

Collecting data about your health to make positive changes is easier than ever thanks to the many solutions available in the market.

The choices cover automated tracking, when you run, for example, and manual input, such as recording what you eat. From my own experience, I can say that consistency pays off.

You don’t have to record every morsel of food for the rest of your life, or track every single run. Instead, try to monitor key activities for a few weeks, months or even a year. This lets you make small adjustments along the way that can result in big long-term improvements.

Eva Murray

Meet Eva Murray

As Exasol’s Head of Business Intelligence and Tableau Evangelist, Eva is responsible for executing Exasol’s data-driven strategy and developing our Center of Excellence. She is highly passionate about bringing data to more people and creating educational content and collaboration opportunities for data analysts across the world to create a community of like-minded professionals who drive action and change.

After studying psychology and business at the University of Wellington, New Zealand, Eva worked as an IT Consultant for Deloitte before moving to Sydney, Australia, as a Senior Solution Designer for Commonwealth Bank. Subsequently, she became a Tableau Consultant and Trainer for Tridant.

Outside of work, she is a keen triathlete, traveler and gelato addict, for which Nuremberg is the perfect environment.

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